Opinion: Graduation Overhaul Step in Right Direction


As higher education grows increasingly requisite for career success and the number of college applicants continues to rise, many students are aggressively seeking to differentiate themselves from the hundreds of thousands of other hopeful applicants in the competition for selective scholarship awards and admission to prestigious universities, some turning to the graduation designations of valedictorian and salutatorian under the Latin honors system.

This centuries-old tradition has garnered considerable resistance from school districts across the United States in recent decades, opponents often citing the hostile, anxiety-ridden environment the awards breed and the limitations of the recognition program in only naming a No. 1 and No. 2 student as valedictorian and salutatorian.

Last July, the Chandler Unified School District announced their decision to replace the existing recognition program with the Latin honors system practiced by many universities, awarding hundreds more students based off three new levels of GPA cutoffs, effective for the class of 2020. As consequence of this new policy, though, some high-ranking junior- and sophomore-level students will not receive the unique recognition they were promised and chose to work toward as they took rigorous courses.

In failing to phase out the recognition program beginning with this year’s freshmen, the policy change unfairly shafts high-ranking students of the classes of 2020 and 2021; however, apart from the unfair consequences of this immediate implementation, the revision, on the whole, encourages greater self-expression among students and does much to combat unnecessary competitiveness and debilitating GPA anxiety.

Given that the purpose of a graduation ceremony is to recognize the accomplishments of graduates, it is unfortunate that our current system typically awards special titles to only 2 students out of a class of hundreds.

Junior Alyssa Zhang, currently ranked first in the class of 2020, commented that “since Perry is a big school and has a lot of excellent students, more should get honored at graduation,” suggesting that the top 5% of students receive a unique distinction. The Latin honors recognition program, though different from a top 5% award, will allow for hundreds of more students to be recognized, while still distinguishing between the comparative honor of each title.

The new GPA cutoffs will be 4.5-5.0 for Summa Cum Laude, 4.25-4.49 for Magna Cum Laude, and 3.75-4.24 for Cum Laude. Some argue, though, that the 4.5-5.0 category is too wide of an interval for sufficient prestige or individual recognition.

Class rank will continue to be reported on transcripts, and though it will not be shared at graduation, high-ranking students can still list their rankings in college applications and résumés.

In eliminating the valedictorian tradition, CUSD is encouraging students to take classes out of enjoyment and genuine interest, rather than as an investment in the ‘GPA game.’ Competitive, divisive pressure for students to outperform other students will decrease, and students will no longer be penalized in the race for graduation recognition for having taken required on-level classes or investing time into non-weighted periods of Student Government or Choir or Newspaper.

The debate over the new Latin honors system cannot be reduced to ‘yet another example of a participation trophy mentality.’ While it is more than reasonable to argue that modifying the structure of the graduations for the classes of 2020 and 2021 would be dishonest and unfair considering the sacrifices and extra effort those high ranking students have put forth, the greater flexibility in schedules and reduction in stress resultant from this change will be constructive improvements for the class of 2022 and beyond.