In 2008, CHS introduced the Distinguished Grad program to its graduating Senior Class. By replacing the titles of “valedictorian” and “salutatorian,” the title of “Distinguished Graduate” was designed for students to take leadership, service and extracurricular accomplishments, not just scholastic achievements such as GPA, into consideration. Now, a point-based system determines distinguished graduates, commended graduates and the top Distinguished Graduate, who has accumulated the most points and speaks at Commencement.
Yet during the three and a half years of Distinguished Grad, some students have voiced concerns about its nature, most notably in how it places emphasis on quantity of activities over quality of participation.
According to John Chang, Stanford Class of ’06 graduate and author of From Hopeless to Harvard who has the applications of over 100 generous high school students accepted to all eight Ivy League schools, Stanford and MIT, admission is “about depth over breadth, always.” In other words, he asserts that focus and strong development in one area, instead of spreading yourself too thin, will be more important in the future.
In addition, the point system as it is necessitates further change. How does one (somewhat arbitrarily) place a number on an activity? Instead, point values should be determined by the amount of time, a quantifiable number, needed for participation in that varsity sport, volunteering event or theatrical production.
If the CHS administration seeks a holistic assessment process, numbers, once again, are not enough. More subjectivity is required, perhaps in the form of a mandatory application essay on the senior’s most meaningful activity throughout his or her high school career or a brief formal interview. While such an action might deter some students from applying, those who have steadfast determination will not mind clearing this additional hurdle.
Although about 100 seniors will be recognized as either distinguished (3 percent of the graduating class) or commended (7 percent), the top Distinguished Graduate is not only commemorated with a plaque, but he or she is also remembered and respected by many peers. An essay will provide students with the opportunity to tell their individual stories. Nowadays, most selective colleges incorporate supplemental essays into their applications. The Common Application, which allows students to easily apply to any one of its 414 member institutions, includes short-answer and essay sections.
Yale, which U.S. News and World Report ranks third in the nation, desires applicants who can “share something meaningful about yourself and your experiences.” Without having maintained deep-rooted, quality commitments in activities, an applicant cannot convey anything “reflective” or “meaningful” regarding his or her passions. Collegiate success, the primary goal of high school education, starts with valuing depth over breadth.
It’s time to turn the lights on. Students have been kept in the dark about information, including an estimate of a cut-off score, justification behind recognized and unrecognized activities and procedure in case of a tie of point values. Now, however, they should have more transparency in the entire application and judgment process, as well as an opportunity to voice suggestions and improvements.
While the Distinguished Grad program has effectively evolved to reflect the importance of balance within the holistic college admissions process, it has also brought along confusion and complaints. By supporting a clear contradiction of what colleges support, the CHS administration owes to its student body an explanation detailing the program itself and justifying its aspects. Students should also be able to voice their own opinions. Only then can distinguishable change come to this Distinguished Grad program.