When I read the May 18 news article “Wake board votes to drop naming valedictorians,” I was flabbergasted. I first heard the word “valedictorian” at the age of five. When my mother explained the meaning, I set a very long-term goal to achieve that ranking.
Twelve years and countless hours of studying later, I was named valedictorian of the Wake Forest-Rolesville High School class of 2004. The newspaper articles, lunch with the governor and graduation speech that came with the accolade made all the hard work worthwhile.
Now I live in New York City. I have a successful career in tech and a burgeoning career as a playwright. Both are highly competitive fields in a highly competitive city. Thank God, I was well-prepared!
There are many more important reasons to reconsider this action.
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North Carolinians are fiercely patriotic, proud of saying that America is the greatest country in the world. We praise democracy and capitalism, both of which encourage competition to deliver us the best person or product we can have.
At high school football games and college basketball games, we wear our colors proudly and feel the team’s victory is our own. On Oscar night, we watch with bated breath to see whether our favorite actress will take home the trophy proclaiming her as the best. And every four years, the Olympics capture our attention as we root for athletes whose names we didn’t know but whose performances are inspiring.
The world at large is competitive. Whether it’s athletics or business or politics or entertainment, the need to reach the highest rankings is not only natural, but worthy of encouragement. It makes everyone better.
If the school system stops declaring a valedictorian, what it is saying is that academics are less worthy of attention than other areas. That a four-year marathon doesn’t merit recognition. That “good” is good enough.
Yes, competition can bring out the worst in people. It can encourage unhealthy habits. But this is true – and perhaps more so – within the world of sports. How many athletes have played through injuries in order to hold on to their scholarship dreams? Or, conversely, sacrificed their school work to spend more hours dedicated to the goal of winning a match?
Unless and until they vote to stop scoring high school athletic events, we should not remove the element of competition from high school academics.
I hope the school board will reinstate these titles for the students who deserve them.
The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the article.