I was my high school’s valedictorian 48 years ago.   That was in the Class of 1964 of Parkersburg High School in Parkersburg, Iowa.  On May 20, 1964, there were 47 of us who walked up the middle aisle of the tiny, long-gone gymnasium to the music of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstances.”   At one point, I was called forward to get a tiny medallion the size of my fingernail and a check for $5 as the kid with the best grade-point average.  I cashed that check and sealed the  five-dollar bill in plastic and have kept it in my safety deposit box over the decades.

I had been inspired by my freshman algebra and Latin teacher, Mrs. Dorothy Evans, to strive to earn the title of valedictorian.  I finished nearly 40 points ahead of the salutatorian, as I recall.

The  Arizona Republic has carried a number of articles in recent weeks about the debate over designating valedictorians and salutatorians.  On May 13, an article was headlined, “Some school erasing the title of valedictorian: Districts break tradition, honor more students.”   The story by Amy B. Wang told about a trend of schools in Arizona and nationwide where they are opting to do away with the traditional top two academic honors of high school classes, the No. 1 student, or valedictorian, and the No. 2 graduate, the salutatorian.  Rather, they are lumping the top set of graduating seniors together into some kind of a group of distinguished scholars.  Instead of singling out a couple students, schools are recognizing  the  top 1 or 2 percent as the creme de la creme of academic pursuit.

I see it as more of a dumbing down in education, one more action of protecting the egos of the also-rans of the world.  We long ago heard about how letter grades “A” to “F” are too intimidating to students, so things are softened with pass-fail or  “excellent,” “above average,” “acceptable” or something like that.  School administrators say it can be daunting to precisely determine GPAs with electives, weighted-grades, early graduations and other things that qualify for credits.

Wednesday’s Republic carried a story about the resolution of a battle of two families in the Wiliams Field High School in the Higley School District in Gilbert.

The story, by Hayley Ringle,  was titled “School quells valedictorian flap: 2 stellar achievers will share honor at graduation tonight.”  The families of Jonathan “Johnny” Guzman and Courtney Moore disputed which had the better GPA. The district tallied things and got 4.82 for both.  Guzman’s family said Johnny should be the sole valedictorian because they believed Courtney’s GPA was “artificially inflated” after four strength training or weightlifting  classes were removed from her GPA calculation.  His family said their spreadsheet of the grades proved things.  Said Johnny, “The spreadsheet will show that calculating the GPA by the original methods (set forth since I started high school) … results in my GPA being higher than Courtney’s every semester except for semester one.”

The story went on: “The Moores say that their daughter took one more honors-weighted class than Guzman and that his Mormon seminary class gave him an advantage because he took only five other high school classes a semester, except his freshman year. Moore took six classes a semester.     She is 16 and Guzman is 18. Both have received straight A’s since kindergarten, and both have done extensive international travel and heavy extracurricular activities on their records.  Moore will start at a sophomore this fall at the University of Arizona’s honors college to major in biochemistry. She already has 32 college credits.   Guzman has been chosen to attend Massachusettes  Institute of Technology to major in biological engineering and Chinese.  A doctorate degree is in his plans.

The district settled the dispute and the two teens were co-valedictorians and gave speeches. They said it was the fair thing to do. Superintendent Denise Birdwell called on the community to “celebrate these two young adults who have accomplished so much both academically and in support of their community throughout their high school years.”

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