Is the valedictorian award still validated?


Illustration by Audrey Hettleman

Sarah Young

At the Redwood graduation ceremony, the valedictorian will step up on the stage in their red gown, speak about their high school experience, say a few kind words to their classmates and then the ceremony will go on. The valedictorian is only awarded just a few moments of fame for four years of mindlessly memorizing terms and rushing to fit in countless Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

The honor of valedictorian is given to the student in the graduating class with the highest grade point average (GPA). While receiving this accolade is gratifying and sometimes considered the highest honor a high school student can receive, it also has negative repercussions on both the valedictorian and the entire school population. It is unjustified to base the honor of valedictorian solely off of GPA, as it is not reflective of extracurricular activities and does not reveal the true character of the person and the impact they’ve had on their community. Extracurriculars such as sports, community service, peer tutoring or a job matter more because they show how the student has reached out and improved the community, and should be accounted for when deciding who receives the title of class valedictorian.


The highest GPA is determined through a series of grade based points, with an AP or Honors course receiving five points, and a non-advanced course receiving four. For an aspiring valedictorian, the way to stay competitive is to take as many AP or Honors courses as possible. This can lead students to choose those advanced classes not because they’re interested in pursuing the material, but simply for the grade boost. This results in less motivation to learn the material, and just trying to do well for the grade.

In high school, most teachers and parents have started to encourage students to focus on things they’re interested in and look for what they might want to study and work towards for the rest of their lives. This push to develop an interest is important because having the opportunity to find a passion at a young age can lead to more advanced, earlier education in high school or before college, in a field that’s interesting to students. But, the thrill of the valedictorian title can put a damper on this excitement and exploration for some students because of the stress of the workload of other classes that are taken for a grade boost.

But more than exploring a student’s interests, solely looking at someone’s GPA doesn’t define the person and how much of an impact they had on their community during high school. Part of being a well-rounded individual is volunteering, according to, a site with advice on the job hiring process. Additionally, 92 percent of hiring managers believe volunteering expands an employee’s skill set and makes them well-suited for a professional job. Are your second-semester junior year grades going to matter in five years when searching for a job? No. But your experience helping others and lending your time definitely will. So why should Redwood promote rewarding the student with the highest grades in their classes if it will not directly lead to success in the long run?

Of course, every year when the valedictorian is named at Redwood, the awestruck parents, siblings and students in the audience are not thinking about the stress and pressure on the individual student. Most of the audience is admiring their hard work and ‘success.’ The vital issue with the mindset that having the top grades is the epitome of success is that it’s pushing Redwood towards a more competitive and rushed environment. Walking the halls, you can see students cramming for next period tests, hastily copying down someone else’s homework or notes and spending all of lunch or break catching up. This focus is ridiculous, and the idea that ‘success’ comes with the best grades is creating an unhealthy perspective to strive for the valedictorian award.

According to Money, a personal finance magazine, most high school valedictorians don’t end up in the top of their areas of study or work after college or high school. In this study, high school valedictorians were tracked years after college graduation, “Most of the subjects in the study [valedictorians] were classified as ‘careerists:’ they saw their job as getting good grades, not really as learning.” This attitude doesn’t carry over into the real world and isn’t helpful in fostering the creativity of our generation.

In the end, being a high school valedictorian does mean a lot to some students and their families. It is a good thing to be high-achieving and try your best in school, but the attitude that school and grades should be a student’s entire focus is counterproductive. Learning to help and give back to your community is equally as important, and when called in for a job interview a few years after graduation, your high school grades will probably not be scrutinized. The current system is outdated and is beginning to harm students. Changing the valedictorian award to encompass a holistic look at students, such as including their contributions to their community and their impact on their school, would be much more effective later in life, and offer a better reflection of the student who truly accomplished the most during high school not just as a student, but as an active community member.