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Local schools changing valedictorian system

By Amanda Taylor | Posted - May 16th, 2014 @ 9:02pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Schools across the country have been eliminating the valedictorian and salutatorian honors.

Some high schools in the state have altered the traditional methods of honoring their top students, creating more opportunity for high achievers.

“Students have an array of options — honors, concurrent enrollment, AP — it's really difficult and almost impossible to actually, in some fair fashion, determine who truly is the No. 1 student in a specific school,” said Benjamin Horsley, director of communications and community outreach at Granite School District. “And early graduation is taken out of the mix.”

Schools such as Highland High have taken to awarding several students the honor and asking students to audition for the coveted speech position at graduations. Those schools form committees to determine the “winner.”

“Highland does not weigh grades — honors and AP do not weigh more than other classes,” principal Paul Schulte said. “We don’t need to just have one valedictorian, we can have multiple valedictorians — which we’ve had every year since I’ve been here.”

For 10 years, Schulte has made a point to honor students who achieved a personal best, despite roadblocks and difficulties.

“I don’t base the whole thing on competition at all,” Schulte said. “I base it on individual student experiences. I try not to frame it around competing with your peers — but as recognizing accomplishments.”

Highland has 10 valedictorian candidates for the graduating class of 2014. It also has a Senior Award Night a week before graduation, where students are rewarded for excellence in academics per department, given scholarships and achievements in sports and the arts are recognized.

"Merits of academic history seems like a better approach than designating one student. It's apples and oranges trying to compare some of these students together, simply put." —Benjamin Horsley

“There certainly are some folks who really are passionate about being a valedictorian,” Schulte said. “We hope the total experience will outweigh maybe not getting that reward.”

Several schools in southern Utah have done away with the title completely. However, that sense of eliminating competition could be detrimental in the long run, an editorial in the Spectrum said. That just isn’t how real life works. Or even the next step in the educational process.

“The Ivy League and schools in Arizona and Colorado are just a few that determine academic-based financial aid decisions and, in some cases, admissions on class rankings and grade-point averages within weighted classes,” the editorial in the Spectrum said.

But high schools in those same states are also eliminating the valedictorian and salutatorian positions. In Arizona, kids who ranked in the top percentages of their classes expressed a desire for someone to be named the top student.

"I tend to think of a valedictorian as not only a good student but involved as well," Krystal Zawisza, a senior at Shadow Ridge High School, told AZ Central in 2012. "When you're writing scholarship essays, valedictorian is something that stands out and grabs you," she said. "Top 1 percent is just a number."

Horsley said with the timeline of college and scholarship applications, being valedictorian does not often benefit applicants.

“A student who is one of two presidential scholars at Skyline High School, perfect GPA, honors classes and things of that nature — he received a prestigious scholarship, and he didn’t have valedictorian next to his name.”

Ultimately, Horsley and Schulte both said, it is more important to recognize individual achievements of each student.

“Merits of academic history seems like a better approach than designating one student,” Horsley said. “It’s apples and oranges trying to compare some of these students together, simply put.”

Schools in Florida, Chicago and Minnesota have also gotten in on the trend of removing the title of valedictorian. According to the News Herald, Panama City, Florida, is recognizing much larger groups for their academic achievements.

“Graduates with a 4.0 GPA or higher will receive the honor of graduating “with excellence,” 3.5 to 3.9 GPA will graduate “with honors” and 3.0 to 3.49 will graduate “with distinction,’” the article said.

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