Is it time to hang up the valedictorian cap?

Jul 10, 2012

President Obama Delivers Commencement Address At Joplin High School

Graduating seniors of Joplin High School. Credit: Pool/Getty Images

At Eagle Rock High School, this year’s valedictorian and salutatorian were separated by a mere five hundredths of a point in their grade point averages. While obtaining the rank of salutatorian is still an impressive feat, don’t tell that to the parents of Elisha Marquez. Marquez, whose 4.5 GPA was edged out by the valedictorian’s 4.55, is headed to Stanford next year for college. Her parents, meanwhile, are threatening to take their child’s high school to court.

They claim Marquez’s late nights studying were all for naught and that they didn’t want Elisha to be “a loser.” (Apparently, Stanford University decided to settle on the poor girl…) While their legal argument is flimsy at best, this does raise the issue of whether or not it makes sense to keep the traditional valedictorian system in place. After all, the word comes from the Latin form of saying farewell, not cramming for tests. The proliferation of AP and honors courses has seriously skewed the GPA system, so that “regular” classes are shunned and avoided.

Is this really what education is all about? What’s a better alternative? Is there a way to reach a compromise so that both parents and students are happy?

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