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The Race for Valedictorian

No matter what the local slang for it is, all good so-called nerds know of the bloody race for valedictorian—the clash of good grades, better grades, and the best grades all for the honor of being the student with the best GPA. Here, we call it the “GPA game.” Some may believe that this is unhealthy, unnecessary, and counterproductive to the purpose of the education system. However, the “GPA game,” if handled correctly, can be rewarding for a student.

I’m biased. I grew up in a household where the importance of good grades was ingrained into me from a young age. Needless to say, it was quite a shock when I encountered people who didn’t share my views on grades—even criticized me for my lack of social graces and relentless pursuit of a higher grade-point-average. Students do crazy things in pursuit of higher GPAs, including taking classes they may not enjoy (as long as it’s Advanced Placement), checking online grade-books every two seconds (because grades can be changed if you check them often enough), and getting upset over high grades (an A is never really an A if your friend does better). I’ve been asked, “Is this really beneficial when you can be enjoying life instead?”

Despite all of the cons, my answer is and will always be, “Yes.”

Many schools have recently pushed to do away with the title of valedictorian altogether, citing “unhealthy competition” as the reason. Eradication of this title would be much unhealthier. Students who previously prospered when competition was present may turn indolent as soon as they realize hard work will still give them the same benefits as students who do not work as hard. Competition prepares students for later life as they compete for jobs, higher salaries, etc.

I will concede that the competition is stressful, but this stress can only be beneficial in later life. Stress accumulated in school trains students to deal with difficult situations. Students who are unaccustomed to stress may break under the more serious pressure of a college workload or, if they don’t learn their lesson in college, the pressure of finding a lucrative job and making ends meet.

The battle for valedictorian is no more time-consuming than other encouraged activities, such as band, sports, or cheerleading. It is even less so in many circumstances as students who participate in those activities will have to balance both school and extracurricular activities.

Another argument against the valedictorian title is that it may cause students to take classes they may not want to take. In most schools, grades are weighted. Advanced Placement classes count as a “5.0” if a student gets an A in the class as opposed to a “4.0” in a regular class. In order to have higher GPAs than others, students have to fill up their schedule with as many AP classes as possible. The concern is that students will not take these classes because they enjoy them but rather to better their averages. Honestly, who enjoys school? Some classes are fun of course, but other classes are labeled as “those” classes. The ones students take just because they have to. There is no shame in doing this. In an ideal society, all students would enjoy the classes they take, but because this is impossible, students might as well obtain a higher GPA while disliking class. What’s the difference between the race for valedictorian practically requiring students to take classes they may not enjoy and schools actually requiring students to earn a certain number of credits in subjects they cannot stand?

Let’s face it: enjoying life is overrated if there’s no guaranteed future in store. People who believe that the GPA game is unhealthy are too often focused on the idea that high school is supposed to be the best years of one’s life. This ceases to matter in the future as students who did poorly in high school are forced to work in lower-paying jobs than people who aimed for valedictorian (or at least higher class rank). I have friends who have found a happy medium between enjoying life and getting decent grades, but for some people, it is impossible to find that medium. If I want to study physics for two hours straight in order to make a good grade on my next test, that is my choice. No one has a right to criticize this choice—it affects me and only me.

Another supposed problem is that students are not able to fully enjoy the social benefits they should be able to gain from high school—making new friends, building connections, etc. as they are too enraptured by their large textbooks. This can lead to social inadequacy in the future as they never learn how to interact with others. This conclusion is illogical. It is perfectly possible—even probable—that students will be able to find friends who have the same drive for grades as they do. They will be capable of making new friends with the same interests. It is an accepted fact that people are generally more comfortable around people who share the same views or enjoy the same things. Only being around a certain group of people does not imply social awkwardness—it may just be a preference.

Must the education system cater to the lowest common denominator just to appease? Satisfying all will lead to our education system falling apart piece by piece as students are no longer motivated to work hard and earn class rankings. The battle for valedictorian is healthy. I take pride in my title of “GPA whore”—a term used to describe me by classmates.



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NeRdZrUlE said...
Aug. 10, 2012 at 9:12 am
Thanks for a great essay! This describes the situation I have faced at my school perfectly, as I also am a spurred in this race for the top by grades, although others crticize me greatly for this.  Keep on racing, and keep your head high!
 
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