Richard Hyatt

Ignoring top of the class

If we’re going to heap praise on 300-pound linemen and jump shooters with great range, we ought to honor our highest achievers in the classroom.

That seems logical, but now along comes a school system in North Carolina that is thinking about eliminating the tradition of honoring valedictorian and salutatorians because it creates unhealthy competition.

Long ago, as a senior in high school, I couldn’t spell valedictorian, much less be one. Competition didn’t affect my health since I hadn’t been a contender since some time in the ninth grade.

So it’s hard for me to accept a proposed resolution in Wake County, N.C., that says starting in 2018, principals may no longer name valedictorians and salutatorians — titles awarded graduates with the highest grade-point averages. A school official believes it’s healthier to set high expectations and higher requirements.

A vote comes in June.

As the oldest public school district in the state, Wake prides itself on tradition. This decision would tamper with a tradition as old as the cap and gown, and it’s not a move on the horizon among high schools in Muscogee County.

“As long as the University of Georgia guarantees every valedictorian in the state acceptance into the freshman class, you’re going to have valedictorians,” said Hardaway High School principal Matt Bell.

Bell said the titles are highly respected and that they encourage Hardaway students to take Advanced Placement courses and International Baccalaureate courses. Weighted classes allowed the 2016 valedictorian to graduate with a 4.5 GPA.

At Brookstone, interim Head of School Frank Brown said the titles remain the top two awards in a culture that believes in recognizing excellence.

“Valedictorian is a true marker of excellence,” said Brown, the former president of Columbus State University.

Valedictorians and salutatorians are usually the speakers at graduation, but at Brookstone that’s not the case. Students vote for a male and female speaker.

Brookstone hasn’t always followed these traditions. For many years, the school didn’t have a valedictorian and currently it does not honor a salutatorian.

The idea that grabbing excellence isn’t healthy is hard to understand. Especially in a society where national networks focus on high school kids sitting at a table behind a row of ball caps waiting to see which one he plops on his head.

Now that’s unhealthy.

Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at