AACC Commencement 2017 Valedictorian Address by Stephen M. Sala. (Video from Anne Arundel Community College)
Let me tell you a story about a group of kids in high school. The smart kids. Every year they get to watch their peers receive medals at sporting events and receive varsity letters. While they are studying hard and striving to do their best, their friends are making announcements (sometimes even covered by the local press) of what big name university they are committing to. Their peers are the “cool kids.” They are class presidents, star athletes and the local home-town heroes. They are on homecoming courts and become prom kings and queens. All the while the smart kids are happy for their friends and celebrating alongside them in their success. And when the last few weeks of high school arrive, the smart kids are told where their class rank is.
I was one of those smart kids. I wasn’t athletic. I sat on the bench and cheered on my team. I got awards like “perfect attendance” and went to district band. When the announcement came of where we were ranked in the class a week before graduation, all of my friends had already been accepted to the colleges they were going to. I wasn’t the smartest, but I worked hard. For my efforts, I achieved third honor in my graduating class. I can still remember the feeling of pride and accomplishment of what I had achieved. My parents had gone to every track meet and watched me finish last in almost every race. This was something my parents were going to get to see me achieve at. I also remember the feeling of happiness I had for my fellow classmates and friends who had achieved valedictorian and salutatorian; they were the smartest in our class and deserved to be recognized on our day of graduation.
It is disheartening to hear that school districts are choosing to eliminate class rank. Why do schools feel they have to take this away from the smart kids of today? What is so wrong about praising a child for excelling at their classwork? Schools will never take that recognition away from the athletes. Nor should they; star athletes work hard too. They put in hours of work on and off the field. They practice in all kinds of conditions and are expected to keep good grades while doing so. Should we also not be giving first place medals at a track event? Or maybe we should do away with the hierarchy of “districts, regionals and state” titles for major sports?
Private schools stated their reason for dropping class rank was that bright students who weren’t able to get in the top of the class were being overlooked by selective colleges. However, colleges are not using class rank to determine who gets in. By the time final class rank is announced, college acceptance letters have already been sent.
Nor can school districts use the excuse that the competition for first is too detrimental to the student’s mental health. Athletes are under that same pressure to achieve the best rank in order to get scholarships for college. Yet we’re not trying to alleviate the stress on our athletes.
What happens when we lower the bar? What happens when we take away achievements and the stress that we go through as individuals to hit that mark? We only know how far we can go when we push ourselves to that level outside of our comfort. Or, as T.S. Eliot said, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
The kids who have worked hard on their studies and ended up at the top deserve that “award.” It shouldn’t be OK to only acknowledge who is the best athlete. We should be OK with acknowledging a student for their intellectual capabilities and achievements as well. Isn’t that why we’re in school to begin with?