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Head(s) of the Class?

Naming Multiple Valedictorians Becoming More Common

July 6, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

If you just attended your high school graduation, you probably still remember some of the advice given to you by the valedictorian for your class, the student who received the highest marks and highest GPAs over their four years there.

If you attended graduation at Long Island’s Jericho High School, though, it may not even be that easy to name who was up on stage, no matter their words of wisdom. That’s because seven high school seniors were named valedictorians at the school, according to a recent article in The New York Times. Rather than giving a captive audience seven inspirational speeches, the group came up with a skit about their experiences at Jericho. Each valedictorian also had 30 seconds to devote to their personal well wishes.

Honoring multiple students with the title of valedictorian isn’t unique to Jericho. Many of the best suburban schools across the country are now naming more than one student to the top spot, and administrators say this leaves students less stressed and less focused on competition. According to the Times article, administrators say it is usually mere fractions that separate the top five (or seven) spots at any given school, making it difficult to be fair when it comes to choosing a valedictorian and even salutatorian, traditionally the second-place finisher.

How has this changed the make-up of high schools? Consider this. According to the Times, eight high schools in the St. Vrain Valley district in Colorado crowned 94 valedictorians. Cherry Hill High School East in New Jersey chose a speaker via lottery among its chosen nine valedictorians. Harrison High School in New York City got rid of the title altogether, naming top graduates a part of the “summa cum laude” class instead. Does this mean students are just more serious about academics, and more are doing better in high school? Or does it mean more have access to a traditionally elite group of high school graduates?

Administrators on the college level warn that the practice only contributes to “honor inflation,” according to the article. Competition exists on the college level, and a healthy degree of that in high school serves as preparation for the rigors of keeping up at institutions of higher education, they say. One Harvard University dean quoted in the article described the case of a home-schooled student applying to the Ivy League institution. That student claimed they were at the top of their class—of one student. What do you think? How many valedictorians did you have at your own graduation?


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