June 27, 2012

What the Valedictorian Said

Across the country thousands perhaps millions have sat in auditoriums and football fields proudly waiting for the moment their loved one graduated. Part of that process includes listening to speeches given by various parties. Two of those speeches are presented by those who earned the titles of valedictorian and salutatorian. If you were one of the approximate 5,000 who sat through my son's graduation you heard what was probably the worse speech ever given by a Valedictorian.

The word valedictorian is derived from the Latin vale dicere, literally "to say goodbye" -- hence the tradition of having the valedictorian deliver the closing speech at a graduation ceremony. Similarly, the salutatorian -- from the Latin salve dicere, "to say hello" -- typically gives the opening speech.   A Google or Yahoo search for valedictorian speech ideas/advice tends to produce similar results. The advice given is that the speech should be reflective of the student body and your shared experiences as well as giving advice for the future. The speech is not a moment of self-promotion, or a time of exclusion. It simply is a time for one student to talk to his/her fellow students, their last shared official good-bye.

This idea of a class based speech is dwindling as is the idea of having a Valedictorian all together. There is a slow but growing trend of school districts across the country that is choosing to do away with the titles of Valedictorian and Salutatorian all together. In Arizona the number of districts doing away with those titles is growing. In an article found in The Republic many school districts are choosing to honor the top one or two percent.  Among the reasons given is the number of students transferring from other districts or states as well as those taking classes on-line.  David Hawkins, a  director of public policy and research for the National Association for College Admission Counseling said although there is little official data, the changes seem to reflect a trend across the country.  Many colleges no longer name valedictorians. In the 18th century, they began to shift to identifying a large group of honors students: high-achieving students can graduate cum laude (with honor),magna cum laude (with great honor) or summa cum laude (with highest honor).  At our high school it was common knowledge that a number of kids including our valedictorian took advantage of on-line classes and grade forgiveness options to replace every non-A grade ever received.  No wonder districts are struggling with the idea of keeping valedictorians.

    In those school districts that do still award the title of Valedictorian the speeches being given no longer seem to represent the idea that this is an honor.  While I do not expect a high school senior to be able to share the keys to a successful future in their speech I do think it is fair to expect that their speech will be one that is representative of not only their academic achievement but their fellow classmates as well.  Until I started researching for this blog I sincerely thought, well at least hoped, that the dreadful speech I sat through was unique in its ability to disenfranchise the overwhelming majority of not only the students but the audience as well.  It seems that the idea of being Valedictorian as an honor is misconstrued today as most see it as a prize won and their speech the spoils.  In California Orestimba High School Valedictorian Saul Tello, Jr gave his speech in Spanish.  He was the first Hispanic valedictorian at the school and he wanted to use his speech to honor his parents.   His original plan was to give the speech in both English and Spanish but was told there wasn’t enough time to do both.  Major controversy has erupted over the decision of the school district to encourage Saul to do this.  I am not looking to get into a debate over language and cultures.  However I go back to my statement that the speech shouldn’t be viewed as a trophy for the winner to do with whatever he wants.  When Saul delivered his speech he started off by apologizing to those who wouldn’t be able to understand.  He didn’t graduate in a predominantly Hispanic community.  The over-whelming majority of his classmates were not from a Hispanic household.  I do wish that the school board had taken the time to print the speech out so that all could be able to understand and enjoy Saul’s speech.   Chances are he had something great to say however most weren’t able to understand him. 

     So Class of 2013 valedictorians from the perspective of a parent, please take these few pieces of advice when writing your script:

ü Remember inside jokes are only funny to those on the inside ~ if more than half  your peers don’t get it don’t share it
ü Thanking your parents is expected ~ thanking every person you know isn’t
ü Being in a relationship is wonderful ~ sharing your undying love in your speech isn’t
ü You received this award based on your academics~ YOLO, BFF and such really undermine your standing
ü You will still live in your hometown after graduation ~ don’t embarrass yourself  as you’ll see us for many years to come
ü You are giving your speech as a member of your high school ~ don’t shout “Go Gators” (or any college team) when you’re on Bronco property!!

Patrick is 3rd smiling at his NJROTC friends

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