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After three Ohio schools did away with selecting valedictorians and salutatorians, a state legislator introduced a bill to mandate high schools continue the tradition.
High schools in Ohio would be required to name a valedictorian and salutatorian under a bill introduced in the state legislature last week.
If passed, the bill would require the boards of education “of each city, local and exempted village school district” to designate a valedictorian and salutatorian from the senior class of each high school in the district they oversee. Each board would have the authority to determine how those students are selected; traditionally, valedictorians have the highest grade-point average in the class, and salutatorians have the next highest.
The legislation was introduced by Rep. Niraj Antani after Mason High School in Mason, Ohio, announced it would stop anointing valedictorians and salutatorians in the interest of students’ mental health. The decision came after a year-long internal study that included focus groups among staff members, students and their families.
The school will instead use the Latin honors system, where students with GPAs of 4.00 and higher graduate summa cum laude; students with GPAs between 3.75 and 3.99 graduate magna cum laude and those with GPAs between 3.51 and 3.74 will be designated cum laude. The change will begin next year, according to Principal Bobby Dodd.
“We are moving to a recognition system eliminating valedictorian and salutatorian honors, and shifting to recognizing students who have achieved outstanding academic success through a multitude of pathways,” Dodd said in a statement. “This will help reduce the overall competitive culture at MHS to allow students to focus on exploring learning opportunities that are of interest to them.”
But Antani, a Republican from Miamisburg, rejected that logic, saying the so-called competitive culture was beneficial to students because it encouraged them to do their best.
“These students work hard to become the top academically achieving students in their class and deserve recognition. Competition fosters excellence and we should be encouraging that,” he said in a statement. “It’s decisions like not naming a valedictorian that creates the ‘everyone gets a trophy,’ lazy culture that is often discussed.”
NFL quarterback Baker Mayfield agreed with Antani, saying on Twitter that the school’s decision to do away with the academic titles was “so dumb.”
“You’re telling me competition doesn’t bring out the best in people?” he wrote. “If you want something bad enough, work for it. People are too soft.”
Mason is not the only school to do away with the practice. Two other Ohio high schools (Tippecanoe and Springboro) have also stopped naming valedictorians and salutatorians, as have districts in North Carolina (Wake County), Arizona (Deer Valley, Glendale Union, Mesa) and Pennsylvania (Parkland).
Experts have said the practice of eliminating class rankings can be beneficial for students, who are navigating the academic pressures of high school while also trying to carve out their own identities.
“Emphasizing academics as a primary source of self-worth creates an unhealthy imbalance and vastly undermines a teenager's healthy and balanced sense of self," therapist and author Sean Grover told Business Insider. "Developing talents, having multiple sources of self-esteem, experiencing positive peer relationships, finding joy in movement or exercise, knowing the value of altruistic activities, all these important experiences get lost in a highly academically competitive environment. Teenagers need to feel they have more value than their grade point average."
At least one Mason High alumnus agreed. Alvin Zhang, the school’s valedictorian in 2016, said in his graduation speech that if he were forced to redo high school, he wouldn’t strive for the honor a second time, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.
“I regret spending the countless hours locked up in my room doing homework, enduring tireless nights of reading an entire chapter from APUSH and possibly, this speech,” he said. “I truly wish I could replace all that time with meeting more people and making new friends, doing more community service, discovering passions, and basically doing anything that would make me happier than studying just for a better grade.”
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.