Farewell to the vale­dic­to­ri­ans

High schools are dis­pens­ing with hon­or­ing the high­est-rank­ing grad­u­ates

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL -

It’s com­mence­ment time at high schools across the fruited plain, and ei­ther the kids in Ruther­ford County, Tenn., are ex­traor­di­nar­ily smart or their teach­ers have given up. The county’s highly ranked Cen­tral Mag­net School has 48 vale­dic­to­ri­ans — a fourth of the class.

It’s part of a trend of elim­i­nat­ing the an­cient cus­tom of choos­ing a vale­dic­to­rian, the boy or girl who fin­ishes first in the class after 12 years of grind­ing ef­fort. The honor of salu­ta­to­rian, the runner-up, has al­ways been highly prized, too. Many schools have adopted Latin hon­ors, nam­ing grad­u­ates cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude, three, two and one (Pig Latin doesn’t count.)

The prin­ci­pal of Lan­caster High in Buf­falo, N.Y., where the Latin hon­orifics are con­sid­ered for this year, says he’s neu­tral on the is­sue but tells the As­so­ci­ated Press that he wor­ries about the 11thranked stu­dent who would fall just short of hon­ors awarded to the top 10 stu­dents. Connor Car­row, 17, was among those who pressed for the change to us­ing the Latin hon­ors and fin­ished 14th in the class. He still thinks the new sys­tem bet­ter fits in with the school’s “col­lab­o­ra­tive and co-op­er­a­tive ideals.”

“You’re striv­ing for that honor per­son­ally,” he says, “but you’re not hop­ing that you’re bet­ter than those other 400 peo­ple next to you.” But Daniel Buscaglia, a class­mate who fin­ished No. 1, isn’t so sure. He thinks the com­pe­ti­tion in high school will help him suc­ceed at Cor­nell, where he will en­roll this fall.

Crit­ics of aban­don­ing the cus­tom of pub­licly rank­ing stu­dents say it will en­cour­age the phe­nom­e­non of the “snowflake” on many col­lege cam­puses, where stu­dents de­mand that noth­ing dis­turb their del­i­cate “safe places” where nei­ther com­pe­ti­tion, con­tro­versy nor con­trary opin­ions are al­lowed to in­trude.

About half of the na­tion’s high schools no longer re­port class rank, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Sec­ondary School Prin­ci­pals, and some ad­min­is­tra­tors worry about how small dif­fer­ences in grade-point av­er­ages can sep­a­rate stu­dents by large dif­fer­ences in rank. Many ad­min­is­tra­tors ap­par­ently pre­fer a sys­tem where ev­ery stu­dent can be above aver­age.

When rank­ings were re­leased at Ham­mond High in Columbia, Md., not long ago, the ad­min­is­tra­tors told stu­dents their num­ber pri­vately, to avoid em­bar­rass­ing the low-fin­ish­ers. The rank­ings stayed pri­vate for al­most a minute. “That was the only thing ev­ery­one was talk­ing about,” says Mikey Peter­son, 18, who fin­ished in the bot­tom third of the class. He seemed to sur­vive eas­ily. “I shrugged it off,” he says, and will at­tend West Vir­ginia Univer­sity in Septem­ber.

So far the move­ment to elim­i­nate the pain of com­pe­ti­tion has not pen­e­trated ath­letic de­part­ments. High school foot­ball teams still have to grind out touch­downs the old-fash­ioned way and the teams that fin­ish with the most touch­downs win. It’s a les­son that life teaches ev­ery­one.

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