School may do away with valedictorian title because it's too 'competitive'

Sep 2, 2016 at 11:15 a.m. ET
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High school is four years of dances, pep rallies and football games, but it's also when kids really start working toward their future success. The report cards matter, the test scores actually count, and there's a ton of competition when it comes to getting into the best colleges and educational programs. The pinnacle for some kids is being named valedictorian at their high school graduation, but one Indiana school is thinking about scrapping the title completely because it says it creates too much competition.

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Parents in the Greater Clark School District in Jeffersonville, Indiana, are speaking out after school officials proposed eliminating the title of valedictorian in favor of a more inclusive honor. Superintendent Andrew Melin told local media the title simply creates too much unhealthy competition and leads kids to spend their high school years taking courses to boost their GPA rather than choosing what they're interested in.

Instead of valedictorian, administrators are proposing a new system that honors the top 10 percent of each graduating class. With the current enrollment at Jeffersonville High School, that would mean around 50 kids receive the top honor each year as opposed to only one or two. The measure hasn't been approved yet, but it has sparked intense debate among district parents, many of whom see the proposed system as a "participation trophy" rather than a true honor.

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For people who've gone to a large, academically competitive high school, it's easy to see where these administrators are coming from. When a large number of students are competing for the same top honor, making the grades becomes vitally important. Kids stack their course load with advanced placement classes, neglect their social lives and put immense pressure on themselves to be No. 1. It may not be healthy, but it also doesn't mean we should take the valedictorian title away completely.

If school officials want to recognize the achievements of more students, that's admirable. Perhaps they could honor the top 10 percent of each class but still also recognize a valedictorian who leads that group. Ranking in the top 10 percent of your high school class is certainly an achievement — not a "participation award" — but it also doesn't mean that whoever ranked first in the class shouldn't be recognized for doing something extraordinary.

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It seems parents are so often divided into two camps: those who think everyone deserves a trophy, and those who think trophies should be astonishingly difficult to earn. Why can't we find some middle ground? No one wants to see their all-star kid lumped in with everyone else and never given that first-place prize. But surely we can recognize the accomplishments of many more kids and remove the toxicity of cutthroat competition without taking away anyone's chance to shine.

Being valedictorian is a huge honor and a very important résumé item for kids going to college. They should be able to strive for that and still celebrate the victory of being among the highest-ranking students in their class, even if they don't quite reach the summit.

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