After working 12 hours a day as a hazardous materials specialist at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, Army Staff Sgt. Dysha Huggins-Hodge studied in the computer lab, determined to complete an associate degree at Anne Arundel Community College on schedule — and to earn A’s. Now stationed in Maryland, the 4.0 student gave the valedictorian speech at her graduation last week.
This year’s valedictorian at Etowah High School in Georgia never has attended the school. Kelly McCahill is on the class list at Etowah but attends the University of West Georgia as a dual-enrollment student. Her college grades count for more points than the straight A’s earned by Sydney Perlotto, who’s ranked first in her class since ninth grade.
At Etowah, Perlotto’s classmates have aired their protests on a Facebook page they’ve labeled “Team Sydney.” They’ve also circulated a petition, asking that county policy declare the school’s valedictorian and salutatorian be required to attend the school for some period between their freshman and senior years.
That does seem fair. McCahill’s enrollment isn’t really dual: She’s a full-time, residential student at UWG with only a nominal link to Etowah High.
Every straight-A student is a valedictorian at some high schools, reports the New York Times. Principals say it reduces competition and bickering over fractional differences in GPA. Critics call it “honors inflation.”
Stratford High School in suburban Houston gave gold honor cords to 30 valedictorians, about 6.5 percent of the class. Cherry Hill High School East in southern New Jersey picked a speaker from its nine co-valedictorians by lottery; the others got space in the printed program.
In Colorado, eight high schools in the St. Vrain Valley district crowned 94 valedictorians, which the local newspaper, The Longmont Times-Call, complained in an editorial “stretches the definition.” And north of New York City, Harrison High School is phasing out the title, and on Friday declared 13 of its 221 graduates “summa cum laude.”
Valedictorian honors are an “anachronism,” says William R. Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions at Harvard. “This has been a long tradition, but in the world of college admissions, it makes no real difference.”
I’d rather see schools replace “valedictorian” with an honors designation than name multiple valedictorians. Let the honors grads who want to speak submit a speech and pick the best one.
On Community College Spotlight: Iraqi refugees flood community college English classes; the valedictorian took her first English class in 2006. Plus: college student suspended for disrespectful tweets.