Valedictorians: Who Are They and How Are They Chosen?

Learn how schools choose valedictorians and what being valedictorian could mean for your college applications.

In Latin, valedictorian means, “farewell sayer.” While everyone knows that valedictorians get the honor of the good-bye speech during graduation, many may also wonder if there are other benefits to becoming valedictorians of one’s senior class. Being named valedictorian has come to symbolize one of the highest honors you can achieve academically in high school.

You’ve seen smart, hard-working students get the title, but what is a valedictorian exactly? And how much does it benefit you to become one?

What is a Valedictorian?

High School Valedictorian Standards

You may think that becoming a high school valedictorian is about being smart and getting the top grades in your class. While good grades are a part of it, there’s more to being named top of the class than just your GPA.

Every school varies in how it chooses a valedictorian, so be sure to ask a guidance counselor about your school’s requirements if you’re interested. Many schools rank students purely by GPA. But how this key measurement is determined is an open question. Some schools give you bonus points for taking harder classes – potentially giving an advantage to students who enroll in AP and other advanced classes.

The honor most often given to the valedictorian (besides the title itself) is making a speech at graduation. Even this is not a universal custom. Some schools may have teachers and/or the student body vote on a graduation speaker.

New Trend: More Than One Valedictorian

The increased competition for acceptance at elite colleges has meant more dedicated students than ever. As a result, more high schools are choosing multiple valedictorians in order to highlight the accomplishments and dedication of multiple students. At some schools, in fact, over dozens of students qualify for the honor. At Stratford High School near Houston, 30 students were named valedictorians for the class of 2010.

Schools recognize multiple valedictorians to reduce the pressure and competition among students. The new trend has been criticized but also welcomed by high-performing students who benefit from the recognition.

Do Valedictorians Benefit in Their College Admissions?

With the trend of multiple valedictorians, the title has come to mean less and less in terms of acceptance rates. The idea that one student in a graduating class is in some way “the best” goes against many people’s ideas of fairness. Who is judging? Is it strictly a numbers game? What about students who have overcome other challenges?

William R. Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions at Harvard, told the New York Times, “I think, it’s a bit of an anachronism. This has been a long tradition, but in the world of college admissions, it makes no real difference. ”

Does that mean you shouldn’t aim high? Absolutely not.

Any distinction or honor you achieve can only increase the chances of acceptance to a great university. But what it does mean is that you shouldn’t put all your eggs in the valedictorian basket.

Famous Valedictorians

Here are a few recognizable names and faces that served as high school valedictorians:

  • Actor Kevin Spacey (Chatsworth High School, 1977)
  • Comedian Weird Al Yankovic (Lynnwood High School, 1975)
  • Actress Jodie Foster (Lycee Francaise, 1980)
  • Model Cindy Crawford (DeKalb High School, 1984)

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