In my stubbornness, I rarely completely change the way I think about things.
When Crown Point High School began talks of erasing the valedictorian and salutatorian status of high school graduates and replacing it with a Latin cum laude system of recognition, I was against it. I thought it was ridiculous to put tradition aside.
But Crown Point Class of 2014 valedictorian Dori Sotirovska has me rethinking the way I see it.
While giving her valedictorian speech last week, Sotirovska was somber in sharing her regrets with the way she “played the game” when in school. She, like many other top-performing students, would take classes with weighted GPA boosts to ensure the highest possible cumulative GPA.
Honors courses are worth more GPA points. An A grade in an AP class is worth more than an A grade in an art class. With the competitiveness of the students and the closeness in grades of a school of nearly 3,000 students, taking an art class and getting an A in the class would have brought Sotirovska’s GPA down.
The same would have been true of a music class or of a wood shop. Sotirovska, like the rest of the top students in class rank, would have been penalized for exploring her interests.
A kid gets penalized for learning about something they are interested in. Students will take study halls they don’t need simply to avoid taking a “regular” class that may jeopardize their GPAs.
Isn’t that the opposite of what education should be? Isn't it penalizing students for exploring their interests?
The cum laude system of recognition that Crown Point has begun to grandfather in recognizes three tiers of students separately. The bottom cum laude requires at least a 3.75, the magna cum laude requires a minimum 4.0 and the top tier summa cum laude recognizes students with a GPA of 4.25 or higher.
The laude system allows for students who want to take GPA-killing electives to still be recognized for their work at graduation. It doesn’t stop students from manipulating GPAs, but it certainly helps.
I still think the recognition of a valedictorian is the right thing to do. It very obviously seems to have helped Sotirovska become a mature adult ready to take on the world. She has me convinced the amount of work the student puts into school deserves to be recognized regardless of whether they played the system to manipulate grades.
But the cum laude system has a place, too. Not everyone will get a trophy. But students who put the work in will more often than not earn recognition as they walk across the stage.
When the valedictorian herself calls out the academic structure, that’s a red flag. Let’s continue to recognize young people who reach the pinnacle of the academic summit, but let’s not forget about the rest, either.