Unit 5 ends one race, begins another

Emily Bauman, Staff Reporter

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The class of 2019 may be remembered for many things, one of which is being the first Unit 5 class to graduate without valedictorians. Rather than having multiple seniors graduating with this honor, no students are being awarded the title starting with the 2018-2019 class. Now applications, open to any senior, will decide who will give a speech at graduation.

In past years, the valedictorian is an award that students began working toward at the start of their freshmen year. Given to only the top achieving students, it had become a very competitive title.

Because of the strict requirements of being the top students in the school, those who aim to have this honor must take rigorous courses during all four years of high school and have well above a 5.0 GPA. This means all honors, all AP and all A’s.

“It’s a stressful requirement to meet,” said Riley Nichols (12). “High school kids are already under a lot of stress to perform.”

Stress largely contributed to the decisions that parents, teachers, and school administrators considered when removing the title in the first place. Students commit themselves to high standards and define their success by numbers and scores, when in reality, this validation is not something that was expected from every student.

“Students should enjoy high school and define their own success,” said teacher Julie Hinman.  “Putting labels on students and ranking them isn’t providing any good in today’s society.”

Along with valedictorian and salutatorian titles, class rank has also been removed with the class of 2019. Now students will only graduate with recognition for Magna Cum Laude, for those who earn a 5.1 average, or Summa Cum Laude, for those who earn 4.85 average, on GPA scales.

According to The Pantagraph, at one of the final board meeting when deciding to eliminate valedictorians,  school officials describe the race to the title as a “valedictorian game”; however by stopping one, another game has emerged in its place.

The new game became a question for administration: Who will give the keynote(s) speech at the graduation ceremony? Students can now apply to be chosen as the individual who will address the graduating class. The speech is up for grabs.

The opportunity was first posted to the Senior Class of 2019 Google Classroom Tuesday morning. The following afternoon parents of Unit 5 seniors were sent the same message through their Skyward accounts. It read:

“The keynote speaker(s) in the past have been the class valedictorians. Due to Normal West no longer designating this title, a new process to select the keynote speaker for the Class of 2019 has been developed. Any graduating senior or seniors from the class of 2019 are eligible to apply. Applications are due to Mr. Johnson in the main office by 4 pm on Wednesday, May 1, 2019.”

By eliminating class rank, students are all placed on the same level when applying for the speech as it is not solely the academic ability of the individual student that marks qualification. Whether a student has achieved or struggled in a subject now has no effect on the students’ chances of addressing the class at the graduation ceremony. Now students are only given a few weeks to submit their speeches to administration.

“I was surprised when this was first posted,” said Emily Hartman (12).  “It only gives us about three weeks to write a speech, let alone make the decision that this is something they want to do”.  A shorter time span gives places students under a time crunch and now students are evaluated on their speech writing abilities, meaning the fate of the speech is ultimately out of their hands.

All application for graduations speeches must be submitted to Mr. Johnson and then teachers, administrators, and students will read,  discuss, and choose the graduation speech based on the written material.

“It’s an open-ended prompt, it gives students room to talk about anything,” said Nicole Mackinson who is the current Senior Board advisor. The senior board was given the opportunity to have students impact on the decisions on who should give the speech. They made the decision to rely on applications.

“It will give students more opportunities to say something,” continued Makinson. “There are a lot of people who have important things to say, but they aren’t necessarily sitting at the top of their class.”

Normally, those who are valedictorian come from a very academic lifestyle, but since grades are not a factor students. Now, who divided their attention into athletics, music or other various activities have a chance.

This could potentially keep the topic of the speech different each year depending on the values and properties of those giving the speech. An athlete could draw from athletic competitions and a music student would likely draw from their experiences in band, orchestra or performances.

Whether Unit 5 intended it or not, Normal West has opened the opportunity up to more students entering in the competition for the graduation speech. It’s still going to be stressful and it’s still going to be time-consuming, only now all its just starting senior year. Let the games begin seniors, everyone is on the same playing field. May the best speech win.

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