Overall experience, not just GPA, should decide valedictorian

March 23, 2010 — by Kevin Mu

At Saratoga High, the valedictorian is the student with the highest GPA at the end of his or her four-year high school career. However, one’s high school experience should not be limited to academics, and therefore the valedictorian and salutatorian of a school should not be chosen based on grade point average alone.

While achieving the highest GPA certainly requires a lot of talent, time and effort, the student with the highest grades may not be the most representative of the school itself, which prides itself in many clubs, music, drama, sports and other extracurricular activities in addition to academics. Students who are academically successful and additionally participate in extracurriculars are, in a sense, much more connected and as a result would better represent the school itself.

The traditional method of choosing a valedictorian based on GPA can also deter some students from pursuing their passions in high school. Instead of taking classes such as art or music that they might enjoy but might not offer honors credit, they may instead substitute rigorous AP and Honors classes that would keep them “academically competitive” in terms of GPA.

Guidance counselors preach that students should follow their own paths in order to explore their individual passions, but the GPA-based system of choosing a valedictorian is counterproductive to this point. If you want to become valedictorian, take as many AP classes as possible as fast as possible, the system tells students. Fierce competition forces many students to choose from a relatively narrow pool of standard AP and honors classes.

Additionally, this current method is unfair to students who didn’t get the opportunity to take advanced math classes in middle school. In high school, these students are forced to take geometry and algebra, classes that do not offer honors credit or the grade point boost that comes with it. These students, no matter how hard they try in other subjects, are still at a disadvantage to their peers who were able to take honors math classes upon entering high school.

Saratoga High would be smart to take steps to get rid of these contradictions and inequities in their system of selecting a valedictorian. Perhaps a committee of counselors, administrators and teachers could decide which student among those with high GPAs would be most representative of the values, both personal and academic, that a SHS student should embody.

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