Pro: Should Sidwell Have a Valedictorian and Academic Awards?

Quinn Patwardhan '24, Graphics Editor

Recently, some schools have removed the valedictorian title and other academic awards, a nationwide trend. These awards are a long-standing tradition in many schools that seek to celebrate and recognize excellence in the classroom. Sidwell, however, does not have academic awards, which stands as an adherence to Quaker values. As college admissions become more competitive, however, Sidwell students need ways to separate themselves from the majority of applicants. Although honoring one student over another would break Quaker tradition, implementing a valedictorian system would motivate students and recognize academic achievement without taking away from the equity in the Sidwell Friends community.

Sidwell students seem to be constantly preparing for the college admissions process. Many take the hardest classes they can and fill their schedules with and pursue a variety of extracurriculars to best appeal to colleges. Some students may even choose to pursue academic awards and recognition outside of Sidwell to strengthen their applications. Still, an additional title could be the factor needed to make students stand out in the admissions process. A valedictorian would accomplish just that. According to a survey by the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, 13% of colleges interviewed said that they consider class rank an important factor in admissions. Although this number is down from 1993’s 42%, any factor that can make a student stand out matters, especially at Sidwell, where helping students go to their top-choice college is a priority. As colleges grow more competitive, Sidwell students deserve the recognition of a valedictorian title and academic awards.

Moreover, evidence suggests that the valedictorian system especially empowers women in a male-dominated world. According to the College Board, 70% of valedictorians are women, making the position an important mark of achievement for women in particular, whose effort often goes unrecognized. Sidwell’s reasoning for a lack of academic awards is primarily based on equity concerns, but studies clearly show that the valedictorian title actually promotes equity by recognizing and empowering women.

Finally, granting academic awards and selecting a valedictorian would further motivate students to become the best versions of themselves. It would not only encourage students to take harder classes, but also to excel in them. The additional motivation of striving for academic recognition would help students challenge and push themselves. Students would be competing with their peers for these awards, but they would also be competing with themselves in the search to achieve their full potential. Just as athletes are always trying to get better at their sports in hope of becoming the best, students should be just as motivated in their classwork.

The importance of maintaining equity in our community and avoiding a toxic and competitive classroom environment cannot be understated. However, Sidwell should find a way to embrace our high-achieving students and their commitment to distinguishing themselves in the classroom. A valediction would serve just this purpose: motivating and celebrating students while accommodating our Quaker focus.