Our View: Valedictorian and salutatorian honors are worth keeping

Kaneland High School became the latest area school to revisit designating its top students as valedictorian and salutatorian last week, when the District 302 school board debated whether alternate methods of honoring high-achieving students might make more sense.

While many schools have moved away from bestowing valedictorian and salutatorian honors at graduation, we think it is a tradition worth continuing.

Some school representatives contend that the pursuit of the valedictorian honor drives some students to shy away from taking classes that might be especially difficult. But as long as schools use class rank, ultra-competitive students will let grade-point average fixations dictate their academic strategy, regardless of whether valedictorian honors are at stake. 

And, surely there are instances when the carrot of striving for these honors helps bring out the best in talented students who, in some instances, might otherwise be content to coast on their natural ability during senior year.

As the Kane County Chronicle reported in the spring, Batavia School District 101 and Geneva School District 304 no longer recognize a valedictorian, instead honoring top students by letting them wear special stoles at graduation. 

But what’s the harm of presenting a class valedictorian and salutatorian, as long as parents help students who are pursuing the honors keep things in perspective?

As a mother in the Kaneland district wrote in a recent letter to the editor, competition is part of the high school culture, most notably in athletics. If high school student-athletes are asked to be mentally tough enough to deal with a disappointing loss or being cut from a team, other students can learn the constructive lessons that come from falling short of a high academic goal.

Some schools in the state have moved toward lauding the top 10 seniors or other larger pools of high achievers, considering how many gifted students are so closely clustered together. That makes some sense, but a valedictorian and salutatorian can still be part of the picture.

Being named valedictorian or salutatorian should not be viewed as the be-all, end-all for a high school student.

A top ranking does not necessarily mean that student is the smartest in his or her class or the best prepared to thrive in college.

It is simply a well-earned honor, and one worthy of public recognition when it comes time for graduation.

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Jan Schlictmann at a Geneva law firm.

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