A valedictorian responds

I wrote in this blog last week that the numbers of valedictorians at a few local high schools caused some raised eyebrows. In particular, I noted that South Medford has 21 valedictorians.

Over the weekend, I received a reply from one of those 21 valedictorians, Brianna Levesque, which I’ll share below. Her writing and arguments as presented in her email are evidence aplenty that she is a worthy valedictorian. As I said in my previous blog, I suspect all 21 of South’s valedictorians will go on to be successful people, because regardless of which classes they took, they all had to be smart and hard-working students to emerge after four years with nothing but A’s. But other schools, including North Medford, now weight their classes, so students like Brianna who have 4.0 GPAs after taking the toughest classes are recognized for taking on that challenge.

In sending her email, Brianna pointed out to me that portions of my blog were referred to in a much longer blog post by Bill Briggs on an NBC News website. He examines the  trend of  larger numbers of valedictorians nationally and also points out some interesting details about how seriously colleges consider the valedictorian title (not so seriously) versus how seriously parents consider it (serious enough to file lawsuits over B grades).

Here’s Brianna’s email response to both blogs:

I am one of the valedictorians; I am actually the one determined “first in class” who will give the first in class address at graduation. I have taken 9 AP Exams, am involved in Cross Country, Leadership, the musical, first place Academic Challenge and Brain Bowl teams, have helped start a Harry Potter club, etc. I have driven over to North Medford this year to take Calculus 2.

And you know what’s great? As involved as I am, and as rigorous as my course load has been, I had not even known I would be first in class because the same level of excellence has been exhibited by my fellow valedictorians. They are just as deserving as me. Nobody has the right to criticize our accomplishments and our intellect — our character! — and furthermore, the capability of our beloved teachers, until they are familiar with our backgrounds, achievements and educational experiences!

However, we find solace in the fact that we know how we have challenged ourselves; we know the knowledge we have accumulated these four years and the blood, sweat and tears we have invested in our education.  Although we are all dedicated students, many of us are also unashamedly nerdy. We make jokes about integrals. We invest a score of hours in creating mousetrap engineering cars. We sing about the electromagnetic spectrum. We fan girl over Austen, and critique Dickens. We are undoubtedly prepared to be competitive in the collegiate world, because we have taken many college-level courses already and developed a love of learning!

The title of valedictorian is given to those who achieve a 4.0 at our school. The first in class speaker is determined by AP, honors and advanced language classes. The term “valedictorian” is a personal honor, and those who receive it have a special role in graduation. We are not informed of our valedictorian status until fourth quarter, long after we have applied and been accepted to colleges.

What they said in the article is true: there is no animosity between our 21 valedictorians. Our greatest competition has been with ourselves, and we look forward to celebrating our graduation with each other and the 300 other students with whom we will graduate this week. On Saturday, our joy will not be diminished. Our hard work and humility will remain with us, and we will be strong in the face of the obstacles we will undeniably face in the years to come. Our lights will not go out.

Thankfully, we each have what has been a wonderful educational (and personal!) experience at SMHS to propel us forward and allow us to pursue our chosen future endeavors to make a positive mark on the world; this is something for which we, and society, should be immensely grateful — and celebrate rather than question.


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