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Void-ictorian

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When making the choices for her sophomore year classes, Claire Walker, senior, had more on her mind than which classes seemed most interesting to her. Like many other students in her grade and other grades, Walker was focused on the weighted GPA that her classes would offer, with the hope that regular classes wouldn’t negatively affect her GPA. Although she ended up liking the classes she chose, she did not get to pick the classes that peaked her interest the most. “I took AP Art History to fill my elective credit, even though I wanted to take a ceramics class, because of the effect on my GPA,” Walker said.

Walker, along with a large portion of students hoping to be at the top of their class, has chosen other classes with the sole hope of attaining a near-perfect GPA. But this year, with the intent of reducing the competitive and stressful atmosphere at Central that causes this GPA-game, the class system is changing. Instead of recognizing valedictorian and salutatorian like it normally does, the school’s board has decided instead on recognizing the top two percent of students in the graduating class. This decision will take effect beginning with this year’s graduating class.

According to Principal McGrory, the decision had been conceived before this year, at the same time when class rank had been eliminated. “The board made the recommendation to drop class rank. They had the final say on that. And within that, it was assumed that we would drop recognizing our top two students,” McGrory said. “If [we] don’t have class rank, it’s a little nonsensical to be recognizing the top one and two students.”

Coming from a class size of roughly 675 students, the top two percent will be composed of about thirteen to fifteen of the students with the highest GPA.

According to McGrory, these students will all have an equal opportunity to try out for the position of commencement speaker. On graduation day itself, the students will be called up in no particular order to be recognized as part of this group.

Central is not the first school to drop recognition of the top two students. Hinsdale South, among many others, had dropped the recognition in previous years. “A lot of high schools now drop not only class rank, but recognizing their top two students, and those schools have all indicated that it’s been successful and that it’s worked well,” McGrory said. “It’s a general movement among a lot of high schools to do that.”

Overall, McGrory believes this change will have a positive effect on the student body. “Dropping class rank now is very prominent in high schools,” he said.

McGrory understands the fears that some students may have with the new change. However, he assures that the change really wont impact students in the respect of scholarships or using it for college applications. “We will still provide that information to the colleges,” McGrory said.

McGrory also pointed out that the change would alleviate the pressure in picking out a valedictorian amongst a pile of equally high-achieving students.

He said that every year there are usually several students that are in the running for the top position. “If we looked right now it would be hard to tell who it is – it’s not as clear-cut as students tend to think,” McGrory said.

Joseph Shayani, senior, is regarded as a possible valedictorian, and is directly impacted through this change. Although the new decision could have changed his recognition, he agrees with the adjustment. “I totally get where the administration is coming from. It doesn’t make sense to have a valedictorian if we don’t have class rank,” he said. “I think that graduation and commencement should really be more about recognizing our achievements as a group.”

On the other hand, Jordan Hank, junior, doesn’t agree with the approach that the school is taking towards relieving competition and stress. “It does frustrate me how the school continues to vainly search for ways to decrease school-related stress, when the issue is so much simpler than that,” Hank said. “The school has an atmosphere that values grades more than anything, and it’s going to take a lot more than one school to change this mindset.”

Although he agrees with the decision, Shayani said that he did not like the timing of the announcement. “It would have been fairer if they had made an announcement for the freshman class this year. Because I mean there are kids, myself included, who have chosen classes with the idea, the consideration, of class rank and valedictorian,” Shayani said.

Shayani, who had found out about this decision indirectly from peers, also said that he had hoped for a different approach of announcing the decision. “It would have been nice if Principal McGrory had invited parents and students and teachers to talk about it in form like they did with class rank a couple of years ago because, admittedly, finding out about [the decision] with a link shared on my Facebook wall wasn’t really the nicest experience,” Shayani said.

Shayani and McGrory do agree that this new change would make the recognition fairer for the group of students who have worked equally as hard. “I think throughout my years I interacted with kids who all have a good shot at getting that number one or number two rank. We share study guides and we study together and we help each other out,” Shayani said.

The process for recognizing the top academic students will differ at graduation due to this new change. McGrory hopes that this change will help even recognition during this assembly. “This is what we think we’re going to do: have them come up and- we’d call up their name- and they’d be recognized. But we wouldn’t indicate if they were one or anything. That’s kind of what’s nice about it,” said McGrory.

Shayani thinks that many of his classmates are deserving of the position. “Overall, personally, [I am] a little bit disappointed, but I don’t think valedictorian is like a must have at graduation. I’m not sure that I really deserve it more than anyone else because we all worked hard.” Shayani hopes that the change will help alleviate the stress amongst students in taking classes with the hopes of being the top student.

McGrory understands that people might become upset this issue. “I would always be glad to talk about it and I think when people actually see how it plays out they’ll realize that it really isn’t a change that’s going to have a detriment on anybody. My guess is after a year or so, it will become a non-issue. I think it’s just the initial shock,” said McGrory.

Most understand and acknowledge that stress will most likely stay the same for students at Central. Hank said, “The change is a step in the right direction, but students are going to set their sights as heavily on this new 2% idea as they did for the valedictorian position.”

McGrory said, “I think it’s really just an opportunity to recognize more students for their academic accomplishments. And now we’re able to recognize more students that have done incredible academic work.”

One thing that science teacher Marvin Breig tries to emphasize is the reason of education in the first place. “The journey is as important as the destination, and students who only care about the grade are really cheating themselves of a great experience along the way,” Breig said.

 

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