Many high schools now name many valedictorians or none at all to avoid hurt feelings, squabbles and lawsuits, writes Margaret Talbot in The New Yorker.
Still, perhaps something is lost if schools eliminate valedictorians. Like spelling bees, the contest for valedictorian offers a pleasing image of a purer meritocracy, in which learning and performing by the rules leave one hardworking person standing. It seems sad to abolish the tradition — and faintly ridiculous to honor too large a group. (If we’re trying to be more sensitive, doesn’t it make ordinary students feel worse when they can’t be one of several dozen valedictorians?) Maybe the answer is to stick to one valedictorian but to make the rules of the contest clear, and to be sure everyone knows them.
My daughter’s high school doesn’t name a valedictorian. Allison was chosen to speak at graduation by a committee that liked the speech she’d submitted. The parents of one of the other finalists demanded that the committee pick multiple speakers, perhaps not realizing their son’s speech was not the second choice. Both were teachers at the school. Most students on the committee — and Allison — had a class from one of the angry parents. The best I can say is that it didn’t lead to a lawsuit.