The practice of honoring students as valedictorian and salutatorian has been a long and respected tradition upheld by high schools all over the country. These students are recognized for having the highest and second highest Grade Point Average (GPA) among their class. Recently, however, many schools are now completely rejecting this honor system and others are opting to title all students with a GPA of over 4.0 as valedictorians. High schools should not be attempting to remove or alter the tradition because it undermines the hard work of the student who is ranked first and second in their class.
Traditionally, the valedictorian has the honor of delivering the final speech at the graduation ceremony and salutatorian, the first. The esteem that comes with being able to do so serves as a recognition of these students’ titles but is rarely the primary motivating factor that comes with aiming for these ranks—getting into college is. Opponents of the current honor system argue that class rankings promote unhealthy competition in an already stressful environment. When a 0.001 gap in GPA can be the difference between rank one and two, it is not hard to see why this could be a reality for many American students.
However, ending the recognition of the top two students of the class is not going to alleviate any of the pressure that high school students face to excel in school. If removing this honor system is the solution to growing competition in school, should high schools remove the class ranking system as well? At that point, how can colleges see how well a student fares against the rest of their class? The main argument against rewarding students with these titles is that it fails to take into account any other aspect of high school success such as sports, clubs, and volunteering, but that is because the title was never meant to include all of these factors of school.
The title of valedictorian is straightforward; the valedictorian is the student with the highest GPA in the class. Rather than blaming this title for the increased pressure in high school, schools should be aiming to educate both students and parents that this title is not what will determine whether you get accepted into an Ivy League school or a community college. In this day and age, getting into college is not just about ranks and numbers. A one rank difference is not enough to determine whether or not a student will be accepted or declined. Colleges look at personal statements, recommendation letters, and participation in extracurriculars as well. As the demand for going to college increases, so will the competition in high school. The tradition of titling the top of the class with valedictorian is not the root of toxic competition, but recognition of a student who has maintained excellent grades for all four years of their high school career.