In Dublin, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, there are three high schools — and this year those schools produced a total of 222 valedictorians. That’s fully 20 percent of the graduates from Dublin high schools this year. One of the three high schools, Dublin Coffman, had 96 students who achieved “valedictorian” status.
There were about 800 students in my 1975 Upper Arlington High School graduating class, and there were less than 20 valedictorians. They all achieved a perfect 4.0 grade point average — the higest possible GPA — during high school. I knew many of them, and one was my best friend, The Entrepreneur. He was a smart and motivated guy who worked hard to keep that four-point average because he knew that one misstep would knock him out of the running, and he really wanted to attain valedictorian status. His friends, me included, were proud of him.
Those days are long gone in many schools, where educators consciously are trying to avoid competition for the “number one student” position. And a 4.0 average is no longer the highest GPA you can get, either. These days, many schools give additional GPA credit for “advanced” classes, to encourage students to take a more challenging curriculum. At the Dublin schools, for example, you get “valedictorian” status if you achieve at least a 4.1 GPA. The Dublin schools call students in that category “valedictorians” to allow them to qualify for college scholarships that are linked to valedictorian status.
(Apparently the Dublin schools don’t ask every one of their hundreds of valedictorians to make a speech at graduation — which means that the students really shouldn’t be called “valedictorians.” A valedictory, after all, is a farewell address. But, I digress.)
What does it mean when 20 percent of high school graduates obtain valedictorian status? Call me old school — pun intended — but obviously being a valedictorian doesn’t mean what it once did. You can’t help but wonder whether grade inflation has played a role and the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality hasn’t crept in to the academic honors process.
And, at a deeper level, it also reflects the diminished role of high schools. For decades, high school was the end of the educational line for the vast majority of students. Now high schools view themselves as just another step in the educational process, and their grading and honors policies are consciously designed to help their graduates get into the best colleges — where, perhaps, the real competition will begin.
Are we helping American students by designing high school to minimize real academic competition? Because, at some point — whether in college, or in graduate school, or in the real world — true intellectual competition will in fact occur, and stress inevitably will come with it. Maybe giving students a dose of competition and stress in high school would better prepare them for that oncoming reality.
In the “really old days” each class had one valedictorian and one salutatorian. I must assume that the population has grown much more erudite since then. If so, huzzah to them all!
WB you are correct, this is why many young people are disillusioned by real life where there are failures and losses. Failures and losses have value, build character and provide experience necessary for a fulfilling life- one that incorporates work.
My daughter graduated valedictorian Summa cum laude from Dublin Coffman High School 2 years ago (It is a top 100 school in America). She is an honor’s student at OSU and getting ready to study abroad in Africa this summer. She was ranked 8th in her class. I like to think receiving all 4s and 5 s on her AP exams after staying up late nights studying for them is proof she just simply does not expect things to be handed to her. This is an excellent school system where greater than 90% of its graduates immediately go on to college (mine goes debt free). Every student who graduated valedictorian worked very hard, I can assure you. My daughter is driven to be successful like so many of her classmates, let’s be proud of that okay?
Congratulations, Kelly! You have every right to be proud of your daughter’s accomplishments, and so do other parents whose kids have worked hard at their academics and who received good grades — whether they were called valedictorians or not. I am not suggesting otherwise, and I don’t think anyone else is, either. The question is whether labeling 20 percent of the graduating students in a school system as “valedictorians” just blurs lines and is excessive. I think that is a fair question.