There I sat, sitting in my friend's car listening to his daughter tell us the story of her graduating class. It wasn't what I expected. She attended a school much like ICS - small, Christian, and full of caring teachers and parents, so her experience during what should be a fond memory for many years to come, was anything but.
Graduation that year was not such a joyous occasion. Two of the top students in her class were competing so hard with each other that it tore them and nearly the entire class apart. The demise of these students' friendship, the pressure that led to high stakes cheating, and the polarization that occurred in the entire graduating class was nurtured by, yes, the valedictorian honor. Certainly there are other factors, internal pressures - sin, competitiveness, and a type-A personality - parents and the college admissions process (or at least the perception thereof). But, high school administrators must also look at how their own policies reflect the overall values of the school (decidedly Christian values in our case) and how these policies affect students.
So, with this in mind, Mr. Kennedy and I began a discussion about the valedictorian. Here's some background: the word “valedictorian” comes from Latin and essentially means the one who speaks strongly or with authority. For all the years that I've been at ICS, we have not used the word in its proper sense, no special valedictory has been offered to the valedictorian. The recipient is recognized but no place in the ceremony is reserved for him or her. In fact, we allow many students to speak because many have made significant contributions to ICS and have been impacted in deep and meaningful ways by their time at our school. There were other factors too. More important ones. We do not rank any of our students for colleges, so it doesn't make sense to recognize a first and second, since we do not rank the third, fourth, fifth? Do we believe in competition? Yes, competition is a great thing and we give many opportunities for our students to compete, but we do so in a way that reflects our core values.