Rethink the rankings

Madeline Kitchen '24, Supervising Copy Editor

A time-honored institution at most high schools and universities, the valedictorian title is one graduation tradition that South opts out of—and for good reason. As it exists today, valedictorian selection achieves the exact opposite of its intention, causing unnecessary stress and singling out a potentially misrepresentative student.

With the wide variety of course levels offered at South, it’s impossible to fairly assess the true ‘highest achiever’. In order to best challenge themselves, a vast majority of advanced students will enroll in several rigorous AP courses during their high school career. While they might not have as high of letter grades to show for their effort, they challenged themselves and stretched the limits of their abilities much more than a traditional course would have allowed. Under the typical valedictorian considerations, a student making straight A+s in all grade level courses would have a better chance at the title than if they had adequately challenged themselves with honors and AP courses and earned a B. This student had the same potential either way, but only in the second case would they have lived up to it. Having a valedictorian would inadvertently dissuade students from trying new things, keeping them locked safely in their comfort zones.

Expectations and tensions placed on high-achieving students are already high enough–competing for the valedictorian title would only exacerbate them. During junior and senior year, college is the inevitable topic of pretty much every conversation, especially for those applying to prestigious universities. In order to be a strong candidate, having an impeccable transcript is a necessity. Low acceptance rates, coupled with intense intrinsic and extrinsic pressures, make for an incredibly stressful application process. Adding a cutthroat valedictorian race to the mix would just be an unnecessary extra layer.

As a student who has spent her entire academic career working to secure a bright future, I’m well aware that I am not alone. So many ambitious and talented students exist at South. To pick just one as the face of academic achievement by a 0.001-point margin would devalue the silent struggles of dozens of equally deserving candidates.
It’s infinitely more valuable for students to spend their high school years expanding their minds and abilities than scheming for an arbitrary title. After graduation and at the end of the day, all being valedictorian gets you is a speech and a cheap medal. The adversities you tackle are what truly follow you for the rest of your life.