Distinguished Grad emphasizes quantity over quality

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By: Jaclyn Chen <[email protected]>

Two weeks ago, I sat down to complete my Distinguished Graduate application, the new program set up in place of the valedictorian selection to honor a group of students who’ve achieved both academically and extracurricularly. And while that sounds like a statement straight out of a PR manual, it’s the program’s professed purpose.

There is a huge “however” the follows.

Nearly every student I talked to was confused at some point or another by this program. Some of the natural confusion was due to the fact that this program was new and different, but there was little explanation—even for the couple glaring mistakes on the application itself—available. After the dean’s office became bombarded with questions, I was referred to my Program of Studies, which incidentally I dug up from last year, to find some answers. All I found in that manual was the three-column grid that contained the same information as the application had itself.

The reason I write this now is because I wanted to give the program a chance in the beginning, despite anticipating some of the glitches last year when we first received news of the change. Now that I’ve seen it in operation, I find the same glitches—and some inherent flaws.

My main concern lies with the inevitable student response and behavior. In this day and age when students already sculpt themselves at the will of college admissions, another turn in that direction is only a turn for the worse. High-achieving students will join activities based on how many points they offer. And although that shouldn’t be reason enough to do anything, I foresee that attitude fostered by this program.

Already I’ve heard students complaining that this, that or the other did not receive a fair amount of points. Perhaps in the future students simply won’t pursue those activities because there is no tangible reward. And no matter how much the school can promote pursuing individual interests, this program has pre-determined what is worthwhile.

To that end, there are endless arguments as to what is fair and what is not, and I understand that something like this can never be completely fair to everybody. Especially with the wide variety of activities outside of school, this program will never fully reward a student for everything he has dedicated time to. We need to accept that.

Still, the cap on points earned will encourage a student to skim the surface of many activities instead of committing time to a few because that strategy will earn the most points. The program emphasizes quantity over quality and again pre-determines what is worthwhile.

My second objection concerns what Distinguished Grad replaces. Historically, high schools recognize a valedictorian as the sole student with the best grade point average after four years, or three and a half in our case. It has always been the culmination of a student’s entire academic high school career, and to honor that at graduation, in front of friends and family, is entirely appropriate. This tradition should have continued, because after all, an academic education, and what a student has to show for it, is the primary purpose of attending school at all.

And although the school claims it does not rank, I recently received an invitation to the PTO-sponsored Scholastic Awards Banquet because I achieved “a class rank which places (me) among the top 3 percent” in my grade. Obviously, weighted rank exists and is only used when deemed appropriate.

Now I acknowledge that I would be neither the top distinguished graduate nor valedictorian, so anything claimed in this column would not help my situation. I hope, however, that the program does not discourage the students who will walk into this building with a high-achieving mindset and diverse interests. If this program continues as is, some students will lose motivation to maintain their academic work ethics because there is little to reap for their efforts.

Perhaps this program was created to compensate for the addition of weighted grades and the emphasis on taking harder classes. For my graduating class, however, this program completely negates the new grading scale because there is no added benefit; the increase in GPA after one semester is negligible. Most schools weight GPA and use it to find one single valedictorian. Our school should be no different.

Some might argue that the reward for good grades is a college admission letter, but that achievement is hard to gauge. It is still the responsibility of the school to offer some sort of incentive for students who want to achieve those top grades. Valedictorian status was that incentive, and this change strips the students in my class (and sophomores and juniors) with that goal from ever achieving the distinction.

Whoever does end up becoming the Distinguished Graduate will deserve the honor, and I hope that the problems with the program do not detract from that achievement. Graduation should serve as a celebration and a final good-bye before our time at Carmel is completely over.

But my ideal vision of the event still includes the many different colored tassels to represent involvement, instead of one blanket sash to show that yes, we can rack up points.

I still hope to proudly wear a sash to symbolize achievement in my four years. But I’m actually glad that I didn’t know from the beginning how the points were assigned because I might’ve tried to work the system. Inevitably that’s what students will do in the future, and that’s just unfortunate. Jaclyn Chen is the editor in chief of the HiLite. Contact her at [email protected]