Who’s #1 In The Class Of 2010?


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myveronanj-whosno1Every school year, a few weeks after mid-term grades come out, VHS upperclassmen learn their class rank. Juniors find out for the first time where they stand among their peers. Seniors find out which student has the highest GPA and will therefore be class valedictorian.

This year, the anticipation has been particularly pronounced. Two seniors, Erin Percevault and Nicole Robertson, both products of the same class at Brookdale Avenue School, are reportedly within a hundredth of a point or so of each other. Things were so squeaky close that the release of the final rankings were said to delayed by two weeks while the high school’s math minds double- and triple-checked the calculations. The valedictorian was determined to be Percevault, by a nose.

Which makes us wonder: At some point–one would think between a tenth and a hundredth of a point–isn’t the distinction between #1 and #2 rather arbitrary? And isn’t forcing a distinction a bit unfair? In fact, couldn’t the whole concept of selecting the tippy-top student feed an overly competitive, grade-conscious atmosphere that’s counterproductive to learning?  It’s probably too late to change the rules for this year, but it seems like a good time to revisit the high school’s policy.

We don’t mean to take anything away from the achievements of either young woman. Both have stellar minds and work ethics that do Verona proud. Nor are we taking issue with the education system that fostered their extraordinary records. But it seems that, when the mathematical results of their achievements are so close as to be statistically insignificant, choosing one over the other does neither the students nor the system justice.

If administrators at the high school choose to reexamine the process of choosing a valedictorian, they would not be alone. According to the Washington Post, many schools have become disillusioned with this old approach and have decided to spread the wealth: Anyone with a GPA over 4.0 becomes a valedictorian. That’s what they do at my nephews’ public high school in Michigan. The end result is numerous valedictorians, less competition, and a more positive atmosphere, because all A students are recognized for their academic achievement. Some schools, in fact, have eliminated ranking altogether.

Adjusting the approach to choosing valedictorians can also have the advantage of mitigating the problem of poor student speakers, since earning the highest average does not always translate into a natural speaking ability. At some schools, student speakers are student government leaders; those selected by student ballot, or even those who have earned the right through a speech contest.

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Julia Martin Langan
Julia Martin Langanhttps://myveronanj.com
Julia Martin Langan moved to Verona in 1989. A long-time journalist, she has been on the staff of Money, Sports Illustrated, Bride’s and Redbook magazines. Her articles on health and parenting appear in a variety of national publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsday, Parents, Good Housekeeping, Harper’s Bazaar, Self and Family Circle. She and her husband Greg have three school-aged children, and are members of Our Lady of the Lake Church. You can reach Julia at [email protected].


  1. As the writer astutely observed, the GPAs are so close, they are statistically insignificant. Who’s to say, that if the two students happened to re-retake one simple quiz, that the results, would in fact, be reversed? If you are going to use statistics to make the decision, then they should be used properly recognizing universally accepted statistical principles. Without question, both students deserve to recognized as valedictorian.

  2. Since both young womwn have achieved the same outstanding gpa, it seems only fair that both should should share in this recgnized award!

  3. If it’s that close – a hundredth of a point – can’t they share valedictorian? I’ve heard of many instances where there were two class valedictorians. One would think VHS would be proud of that fact.

  4. Great article. Seriously, where does it stop? If it is so close that it is going to take “two weeks while the high school’s math minds double- and triple-checked the calculations”, calculating to the one hundredth, the thousandth, of a point, then shouldn’t they compare the the courses they took? Maybe one of the girls took more difficult courses.

    And didn’t Verona High School have two valedictorians a few years back? What makes this year different? A school in Seattle a few years back had 44 valedictorians.

  5. I am truly disappointed with the policy of Verona High School. One hundredth of a point is so minute compared to the achievements and hard work of both girls. Where is generosity? Where is caring? Why create bitterness when you can create sweetness. The aim of education is not only to teach academics but to teach compassion and love for others. Let the Valedictorian Award be shared and let Verona High School show its pride in both young women.

  6. Gymnasts win a competition by a tenth of a point. Racers win races by seconds. Horses win by a nose. Football games are won by a touchdown in the final minute. First Place is valued because it is first place. Should we eliminate competition, the grading system, hockey games? Allow the winner to have her day, the also ran have her glory of almost and let both approach the future with pride and confidence of a job well done . Keep perspective and know that the whole beautiful world is out there just waiting to be explored and savored.

  7. Sadly, I agree with Teri. If there is a standard in place then they should abide by it. How it is calculated, I don’t know – to the tenth, the hundredth, the thousandth?
    However, if it is so close, then I do think they should consider the number of AP courses taken, number of extra curricular activities, lack of study halls etc., etc.

  8. I think they should both be declared equals….both women have demonstrated they deserve to be honored…

  9. Verona should celebrate having two top students in the class of 2010. Where is the affective domain in all of the mathematical calculations? Many schools have shared valedictorians. Why not do the same now?

  10. This is idiotic. There is no standard in place because unlike gymnasts, racers or horses the two young women weren’t competing on the same course. They certainly had different classes, different teachers and were judged on different and arbitrary standards in those classes. Maybe one teacher was more convinced by an essay because it was in line with her own analysis. Maybe an art teacher thought a painting wasn’t one’s best work. Who knows? Given the inherent inaccuracy in the system (and GPAs are themselves a horrible statistical measure) then it’s farcical to pretend that a few hundredths of a point means anything. And to take away the title and the opportunities it can provide from Ms. Robertson is just plain cruel.

  11. If it is taking so long to calculate the true number one, something must be wrong. Shouldn’t it be clear cut? I would love to see the math!

  12. Teri/Brigitte:

    I think the difference is that while gymnastics and auto racing as specific sporting competitions that are narrowly defined, the recognition of our most accomplished students is not. And what the author is arguing is that perhaps we should rethink our calculus if the distinctions are so minute.

    If we make it solely a numbers game [as has been the case] then we run the risk of separating students for ridiculously arbitrary differences and also potentially invite gamesmanship that loses site of the ultimate goal: validating/rewarding academic excellence and achievement. For instance, in my own high school class, the separation was so narrow between the top two students that one of the students [the ultimate valedictorian] was able to defer satisfying his PE requirement [for specious ‘medical’ reasons] until his last semester [after the final results were already tabulated]. Not being a particularly athletic sort, he actually received a less than perfect grade which would’ve decided the contest in the salutatorians favor.

  13. Hank, I think you misunderstood me. I agree with Teri only if there is a clear winner and VHS has clear standards as to what constitutes a valedictorian. If it is absolutely certain that one girl has earned valedictorian, and that VHS has specific guidelines for calculating valedictorian, then that girl should earn her title.

    However, I know firsthand how unfair the system can be. I, unfortunately, also came up short, a hundredth of a point they said – though their math was fuzzy. When I questioned their calculations they said they were sorry and that I should have taken a study hall!

    I wish that I had someone on my side to question my schools calculation of ranking. And though I can’t assume that this is the case with VHS, however, the fact that VHS seems so unsure themselves on how to calculate a winner I am wary.

  14. Yes, they should investigate other options. Especially if its this close!
    So often a tie goes to the student who takes the fewest credits because the AP classes have a greater effect on their GPA.
    Is this fair? To me this only makes “valedictorian” a fallacious title.

Comments are closed.

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