Con: Should Sidwell Have a Valedictorian and Academic Awards?

Brennan Park '24, Staff Writer

Becoming valedictorian has long been a marker of excellence and prestige, but in recent years, both academic awards and the valedictorian title have become obsolete in high schools. Schools across the nation have either completely removed or limited their academic awards and titles, according to Newsweek. Additionally, the schools that grant academic awards have begun giving them to larger portions of their graduating classes, defeating their initial purpose of distinction. These awards and titles, which attempt to distinguish high-ranking students, serve no beneficial purpose to Sidwell or its students because of their outdated nature, their contradiction to the Quaker values and the detrimental sacrifices that students must make to earn them.

As high schools adapt to changing societal standards, the ranking system has outgrown its traditional role of distinguishing high-ranking students from their peers, and their archaic nature has grown increasingly prominent in contrast with modern educational practices. Unlike the tradition of selecting one student per class, schools that still have valedictorians use a process that is overly inclusive. Now, many schools have several valedictorians. In 2014, the senior class of Dublin Jerome High School in Ohio graduated with 72 valedictorians, according to The Washington Post. The multitude of valedictorians in graduating classes strips the great prestige that comes with the title and the whole purpose of the award. The same issue would occur at Sidwell, because Sidwell has many students who would no doubt achieve the title of valedictorian or a similar academic award. Sidwell’s values and culture of equity would likely lead to the prestige of the award being lost to the presumably large number of valedictorians for each graduating class. Sidwell rightfully embraces the core value of equity by deciding that no student should be honored over another.

While academic challenges are beneficial for a student’s growth and experience, the lengths to which many students must go in their search for the valedictorian title or an academic award may be detrimental to students’ physical and mental health. According to The Prindle Institute for Ethics, many students who aim to be valedictorian and earn an academic award sacrifice their personal and social lives, along with their mental well-being. Students should aim to lead balanced lives that include challenging themselves academically while also enjoying their high school years with their friends and communities. The stress and competition of trying to obtain these academic awards in addition to an already rigorous academic schedule will only put more strain on students’ mental health. In Sidwell’s case, the benefits of being a valedictorian are outweighed by damaged mental health and a loss of the high school experience, which must be sacrificed to achieve academic awards.

The Sidwell community values and celebrates individual achievement, but at the same time must remain aligned with Quaker values and beliefs. By having academic awards and a class valedictorian, Sidwell would be honoring particular students over the rest, which would fail to  abide by one of its core tenets — equity — and also create additional stress and unnecessary competition among students.