Sunday, June 27, 2010

The demise of the valedictorian?

This New York Times article, reporting on the demise of the valedictorian at high school graduations, kicked up some consternation on The Eloquent Woman on Facebook.  The article notes that high schools in the U.S. are increasingly naming multiple "valedictorians" and skipping the traditional speech in favor of skits or other recognition.  That seems okay with some of the honorees. Says one valedictorian of seven at his school: “I wouldn’t know what to do with 10 minutes on the podium."

Facebook readers reacted this way:
  • Robin Ferrier noted, "At my high school, anyone with a GPA over a 4.0 was considered a valedictorian, but only the person with the highest GPA gave the speech."
  • Vallerie Fletcher wondered, "What is the difference between the traditional Val and the Salutatorian?"  The valedictorian was traditionally the first-ranked student and the speech generally was what we think of as a commencement address; salutatorian went to the second-place student, who gave a "salutory" or welcoming speech.
  • C Blaise Mitsutama noted, "To me, it's sad when honors lose their meaning. Maybe we should have more than one MVP in sports."
  • Vicky Teinaki said, "For the record, the 'valedictorian does speech' thing is very US centric. In NZ it was the role of the head boy and girl (or in my case, two girls as it was a girls' school) to do the speech at graduation. Valedictorian (or dux as it was known here) was a surprise until the night, and they didn't have to say anything, just accept the award."  Sounds like a good system.  Wikipedia tells us "The title of class valedictorian is common in educational institutions in the Philippines, Canada and the United States, while its equivalent in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Iceland, and Scotland is dux."
  • Andrea J Wenger suggested, "If 7 people are interviewing for a job, and they're all well qualified, the job doesn't go to all 7 candidates. What are we teaching our young people when we homogenize honors this way? Why even bother having a 'aledictorian' if it's shared between so many people?"
Were you a valedictorian or salutatorian? What do you think of the new trend?  Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.  And for an historic look at the speaker stress for the valedictorian, read about Lady Bird Johnson--later a frequent and accomplished speaker--who willed herself to come in third in her high school class rather than have to take either speaking role.  For inspiration, check out this video of a valedictorian with autism, who gives a winning valedictory address.

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Joni Golden said...

I was not valedictorian or salutatorian, but I remember feeling a sense of pride as one of my good friends gave the speech at our high school graduation. There was something special about that honor, and I think our kids will lose out on an opportunity to shine - or to see the example of someone shining - if this tradition goes by the wayside. In abandoning the idea of a select few top students, we lose an opportunity for those kids to have an extraordinary speaking experience, but also on teaching everyone else in the class how to be happy for someone else's success, which is also a valuable life skill.

PepGiraffe said...

I was always under the impression that the valedictorian was, by definition, the person who got the highest grade point average. It was a race to the end in our high school where the difference between valedictorian and salutatorian was made by an A- in an AP Physics class (I was neither one). Since that determination wasn't made until the end of our senior year, it has nothing to do with the fact that the valedictorian, now an OB/Gyn was accepted to Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, none of which accepted the salutatorian (not sure what she is up to).