The Pasco County school district in Florida wants to eliminate a tradition that has defined the graduation ceremonies of thousands of high school students for decades – naming valedictorians and salutorians.
A hallmark of the high school pomp and circumstance are the speeches by the two students with the highest grades delivered to their classmates, teachers and families.
“For a county guided under the principle of excellence, why would the school board choose to discourage over-performance by eliminating students’ goals of becoming valedictorian and salutatorian?” asked 2007 valedictorian Corttney Penbrithy in a letter to the Pasco County Schools board.
The Pasco County Schools board, however, believes that the process of selecting valedictorians and salutatorians is outdated and unfair.
“We started looking at the diversity of pathways that a student can take… Many students take advantage of the Pasco virtual school, and it’s not an even game anymore,” said Amelia Larson, the assistant superintendent at Pasco County Schools. ”Many students close out of a class after the GPA is calculated. It’s just so complicated.”
For many families, the board argues, the process casts a shadow over a graduation ceremony that should be entirely celebratory.
The board is proposing a new system based on traditional Latin designations, where many students will be honored with varying levels of achievements as they cross the stage to graduate.
The Latin honors system would still allow a designated student to deliver a speech at graduation, but that student would not be selected solely on their GPA. “The speaker will be voted on by the kids…It will be the type of person the class wants to honor,” said Larson.
The future of America’s most prestigious graduation honors in Pasco County depends on a board meeting to be held next month. Larson expects the new system to pass, based on “overwhelmingly positive” feedback.