Evans: Keep valedictorian and salutatorian

Published 3:49 pm Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Many schools around the country have decided to stop naming a valedictorian and salutatorian, noting the added stress and competition it creates among students. Several schools locally no longer use the title of valedictorian or salutatorian, and schools around the country have made headlines by completely ending the tradition of naming a top student.

Beyond additional stress, school systems have argued that the title of valedictorian doesn’t mean as much anymore. Often, the valedictorian is the student who has taken the most weighted classes, many at the college level, that will heavily influence their GPA. The term “valedictorian’” generally makes us assume that winning student was the smartest or brightest in their class, but that isn’t necessarily true, as the race can often come down to a numbers game.

Students are often separated by thousandths of a percentage point and in most cases a student with a 4.0 GPA no longer stands a chance at winning valedictorian or salutatorian. Some schools are going to college-level distinctions, such as cum laude (3.51 to 3.74 GPA), summa cum laude (3.75-3.99 GPA) and magna cum laude (4.0 GPA and above).

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It’s a sound argument, and I think it’s one worth listening to. Any tradition that has been going on for decades should be re-evaluated from time to time, especially since the world has changed so much.

However, there’s something special about being named a valedictorian or salutatorian, and I think it provides a valuable life lesson for all students at the top of their class.

To put this idea into a sports analogy, the student with the best GPA not winning valedictorian would be like the player in baseball with the best batting average not being named the batting champion.

Only one person can get an available job. Only one person can be president. Only one team can be a champion.

That’s just how life works, and it’s what makes being honored, recognized and awarded so special. If everyone received that honor, it just wouldn’t mean as much.

However, that doesn’t mean other students aren’t bright and talented.

They just came up a little short when the numbers were crunched.

Those students deserve to be honored as well, and they typically are through distinguished honors and other awards.

They just aren’t the valedictorian or salutatorian, and that’s OK.  That reality is a reminder of what they’ll face in the real world, where you can work really hard and not get everything you want.

In a world where participation trophies have become too prevalent, the titles of valedictorian and salutatorian remain meaningful, and I hope schools find a way to keep them around.