According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, it seems that schools are no longer going to recognize valedictorians, or, in a more compassionate gesture, expand the term valedictorian to include dozens, and sometimes hundreds of students.
One could put this on the list as more evidence of the spoiled little snowflake syndrome, (SLSS) where we’re raising a generation of spoiled little brats that have never done anything that they didn’t want to do, have never been told that they failed, or that they were the losers of any contest. The friendly soccer games where there aren’t any losers or winners does not teach much about sports or life. Why work hard if there is nothing to win?
Losing builds character. Losing when your opponent cheats builds even more character. Being kicked to the curb before you were given a chance builds character, along with, sometimes, resentment and distrust in authority. Hard work and sacrifice are supposed to land you the American Dream, and when they don’t, it sure is disappointing. Some believe and after enough attempts, they are convinced that all of their efforts will not lead to what they desire. Why work hard if there is nothing to win?
In the past, ambitious students took advanced classes, worked hard, got straight As and were recognized for their hard work by being awarded the title of valedictorian. High schools aren’t awarding the valedictorian title as much as they used to; some are eliminating the title altogether and others are awarding the title to dozens of students. Why work hard if there is nothing to win? Why work hard when it will not give you any distinction?
Please do not misunderstand me, I respect all valedictorians, because it is not an easy achievement. The reason the title held little value to me was because of the people to whom it meant something, i.e. teachers and administrators. I lost my belief in the relevance of what teachers and administrators believed to be important in grade school and they never regained my admiration. In fact, I believe that the mutual admiration societies that I encountered as an adult were modeled on the same design.
My first grade teacher was an insufferable termagant who, from my jaded memory, seemed to delight in making children miserable, with a special talent for humiliating young children who had made an honest mistake. While children make mistakes, humiliating them for making a first- time mistake is sadistic. I can still remember her belittling the handicapped kids. I learned that the teachers and I didn’t share the same Christian values that I had been taught as a child, at least from my first-grade perspective.
Then there was my fifth-grade teacher, a freshly-minted young teacher who would have made a Marine Corp drill sergeant look like Mr. Rogers. Had she not looked so young I would have sworn she had spent the first ten years of her life in a concentration camp and considered that behavior as a standard to be admired and vigorously pursued. Don’t get me wrong, there were some kind and loving teachers in my elementary school education, but there were a bitter few that planted the seeds of distrust and disbelief with arbitrary rules and selective enforcement of the same, along with, what I considered at least, disproportionate punishments. They weren’t fair nor could they be trusted to be fair, and they had squandered too many opportunities to exhibit that quality.
The people who ran the school and made my education such a forgettable experience helped me set a goal. Leave. My goal in public school was to graduate as soon as possible. I didn’t disturb the status quo, I just left it alone. The people handing out the title of valedictorian were, in my young and immature opinion, unfair, consistent only in issuing arbitrary punishment, incapable of objectivity, and their institution was rife with nepotism, backstabbing and favoritism. This was only my opinion, and I am not offering it as fact. I just wanted out, and I didn’t complain, I knuckled down, never took study halls, finished and left. It was their game, I left them to it. I am sure that everything was rationalized and compartmentalized to their satisfaction. More’s the pity.
Just like today, I am sure that everything the educators have done is rationalized to their satisfaction. I think that making dozens of students a valedictorian will discourage some students from excelling, but what do I know, I’m just a licensed teacher. Up until now, valedictorians were a minority of a minority, the best of the best, at least in academe. In the same genre of rationalization, we are not holding underperforming students back because it might upset them, the SLSS crowd. We presently have soccer games with no winner. I can assure you that was not how we played little league baseball in my day. You might have hated the other team on the field, but you respected them and played fair, and if you met them later on in life, the small world that it is, you identified with the lessons you learned. To this day I do not remember the score of so much as one contest, I only remember playing the game.
One’s character is revealed by one’s behavior, and hard work usually builds character, although sometimes when it has no reward it brings hatred, resentment and a thirst for revenge. Those seeking valedictorian status now have little to work for, since their hard work will be diluted by those less motivated included in their title. Are we becoming a society where hard work, dedication and accomplishment are disparaged? I would say yes, indeed. Do we, as a society, tend to disrespect hard work? It seems so. How anyone could rationalize giving the same award like valedictorian to someone that has not worked as hard as someone else amazes me, but then, as documented, I am not surprised by unfair behavior of public school officials; I expect it.
Like so many of our rapidly disappearing traditions, some folks handing out credentials have come to the conclusion that valedictorian recognition hurts others, even when they didn’t work as hard to earn the recognition. The administrators who are devaluing the valedictorian are marginalizing excellence, dismissing hard work, and rewarding mediocrity, but I am beginning to believe that the marginalizing mentality is emerging as the new normal. I understand, from personal experience, how a person can refuse recognition from certain individuals or organizations. “If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve,”- WTS. I understand why people, myself included, would not place value upon commendations issued by certain organizations, those demonstrating a conspicuous lack of values and ethics that would be similar to our own.
To those destined to dispose of recognition of hard work, “making their own traditions,” let me explain them: Traditions are made by people who respect and admire the actions of those who have come before them. Those narcissistic enough to consider themselves qualified to initiate new traditions are prodigiously overestimating themselves, and their self-absorption has reached an intolerable level. Unable to best their predecessors, the designers of the new normal are resetting the bar lower and challenging the credibility of their forebears, all the while considering their disruptive behaviors acts of sensitive genius.
Nonetheless, the self-appointed designers of the twisted new reality where the internet determines the truth, the social engineers determined to recreate society in their confused and convoluted vista, have taken it upon themselves to deny recognition of hard work, or to simply degrade the award by giving it out to almost everyone. I close with a realistic view of hard work and its value from someone whose labors are still recognized over four-hundred years after his demise, Michelangelo Buonarroti Simoni: “If anyone knew how hard I have worked to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem wonderful at all.” The valedictorians won’t have to say that much longer.