Can We Stop Babying High School Seniors?

Those of you who recently graduated from high school might be familiar with the new trend in academic ranking: multiple valedictorians.  Say what? It’s true, in another attempt to placate everyone and their parents spread the love, school systems are recognizing arbitrary numbers of honored graduates- 7, 10, 23, 94- as valedictorians.  The New York Times reports there is no longer a Numero Uno when it comes to head of the class.

All I can say is: Damn, I’m glad I graduated in simpler times when top student was a singular term and the position of Salutatorian existed to cushion the blow for the runner-up.  The rest of us, meanwhile, sat contently on the football field listening to the nostalgic speeches, mindlessly twirling our tassels, and comparing our graduation experience to that featured on Laguna Beach (oh, the good ol’ days).  When it was all said and done, we shed the requisite tears, hugged our friends, and posed for pictures with Mom and Dad.  That was it.  Graduation in a nutshell.

Attend the commencement ceremonies at some of our country’s high schools today and you’ll get an extra special treat when you realize your little cousin David isn’t the only valedictorian…he’s got the company of twelve other kids who were high rankers as well.  Just what exactly has given this trend steam?  Is it pushy parents all wanting their precious babies featured on stage?  Or are the students not wanting to admit defeat when a teeny fraction of a grade point stands in their way of glory?  Most importantly, why are school officials caving to this kind of obscene, irrational pressure?

I understand that parents love their kids and want the best for them.  More than that, I understand that parents are often competitive and overbearing people.  The types of folks pushing for their kids to be top of the class are also the ones who will be calling every five minutes once their beautiful children arrive on campus come September.  It’ll sound something like this: “Did you do you homework for Professor Levy?  How do I know him?  Oh, he and I just had a little chat after you skipped Monday’s lecture.  You know, if you want to make the Dean’s list, you’ll have to try a little harder to wake up for those early lessons.”  Mom and Dad aren’t going to be there forever, though, reminding you to keep on top of assignments and be all that you can be.  It’s a fact that one day you’ll have to break out on your own and fight your own fights.  Might as well start sooner rather than later.

As for the duties of valedictorian, those are being altered to fit the growing honorees, as well.  Historically, Mr. or Ms. V delivers a speech to send their fellow graduates into the future with a peppering of wisdom and memories.  It’s a sweet custom that has been accepted for hundreds of years…until now.  Jericho High School on Long Island changed things up for their seven honored seniors when they cut the speech portion of the ceremony, opting instead for a group skit.  A group skit? Umm, how old are we?  These are supposed to be the special kids, not the “special” kids.  Perhaps even worse, at Cherry Hill High School East in New Jersey the speech deliverer was selected at random from the 30 “top” candidates.  I bet that kid felt special.

Before you lovely CollegeCandy readers jump all over me, I would like to say this:  I was never valedictorian, nor did I ever feel cheated out of the valedictorian spot.  That said, I was no dummy either.  Had my school included ten or fifteen students on stage, I very well may have been up there.  But looking back, I don’t think it would have meant the same as either a) being singled out as the top graduate or b) sitting in solidarity with the rest of my classmates in the audience.  You see, a group being awarded a title that traditionally has been reserved for a single person cheapens the title in my opinion.  At that point, I’d rather just own up to the fact that I didn’t quite make it and then move so I can enjoy the larger moment.

With all the recent heavy-handedness going on when it comes to academic recognition, what are these students going to do when they hit college and become (for better or worse) just a number?  Or how about when they’re looking for their first job post-grad?  Typically businesses aren’t looking to fill one position by hiring twenty employees.  Isn’t it just better to give teens a healthy dose of reality early on so they can adjust to the not-always-fair ways of the real world?  Placation can only send our generation so far, beyond that we need to [wo]man-up and quit whining.

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