One Class, 114 Valedictorians….W.S. Gilbert Warned Us About This

Apparently this has been going on at Arlington, Virginia’s Washington and Lee High School, from which my niece graduated, for years.  The school calls about a third of its graduating classes “valedictorians,” so 1) the school can put it on their college applications and deceive those who haven’t connected the dots; 3) make certain the school can claim a female valedictorian, a black valedictorian, an Asian-American valedictorian, a trans valedictorian…you know, because everyone is above average, like in Lake Woebegon, and 3) the official rationalization, to eliminate competitiveness for honors among students, because life isn’t competitive.

Back when I wrote about this in June, 2010, the news was that…

In many high schools around the country, as many as fifty graduating seniors were designated “valedictorians…

Now honor inflation ins some schools is  more than double that, so this atrocious practice is obviously catching on. Integrity is such a chore. Excellence, superiority, achievement…they are all chores too.  As for the genuinely superior students, they are out of luck: this is the high school equivalent of all the gladiators standing up and crying “I’m Spartacus!,” except now it’s “I’m the smartest one in the class!” This Maoist denial of the fact that some of us earn more success than others and that there is nothing wrong with doing so is all the rage, and you can expect to hear more such ideas as the various candidates to lead the nation, one founded on the principle of personal self-determination based on ambition and enterprise, argue about how to deal with “income inequality.” Income inequality is but a subset of talent, industry, risk-taking and ability inequality…and good fortune inequality too. Might high schools sending graduates out into the world with the cuckoo concept that everyone should be regarded as equally accomplished whether they really are or not also contribute to income inequality?

Why yes, I think so.

“Education’s not a game. It’s not about ‘I finished first and you finished second,’ ” says North Hills Superintendent Patrick J. Mannarino, who was the North Hills High principal when the school got rid of the valedictorian designation in 2009. “That high school diploma declares you all winners.” Small wonder students think they have a right to good jobs and lucrative salaries regardless of their talent, hard work, experience or credentials.This helps explain why law grads who can’t land six figure jobs in big firms declare that there is a conspiracy against them. It advances the increasingly popular position that one’s group identification—race, gender, sexual orientation—should be a sufficient qualification for being hired for even prestigious and difficult jobs, trumping such old-fashioned unfair criteria as proven ability and character.

Long Beach Polytechnic senior Julia Jaynes, 17, who shared her valedictorian title with 29 others, said that if her school chose only one, it would destroy collegiality among her classmates. “If everyone wants to be the best, I feel like there’d be less collaboration,” she said. “It makes it so you’re only out for yourself.” Congratulations, America: now you are teaching your next generation of citizens that it is selfish to strive to be the best.

When I wrote about this horrific, irresponsible and un-American trend five years ago, I reminded readers that W.S. Gilbert, in his song (sung by Don Alhambra, The Grand Inquisitor) in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Gondoliers,  taught the lesson  clearly. The song is performed in the clip above (though I have no idea what the director was doing). Here are the lyrics (again):

There lived a King, as I’ve been told,
In the wonder-working days of old,
When hearts were twice as good as gold,
And twenty times as mellow.

Good-temper triumphed in his face,
And in his heart he found a place
For all the erring human race
And every wretched fellow.

When he had Rhenish wine to drink
It made him very sad to think
That some, at junket or at jink,
Must be content with toddy.

He wished all men as rich as he
(And he was rich as rich could be),
So to the top of every tree
Promoted everybody.


Now, that’s the kind of King for me.
He wished all men as rich as he,
So to the top of every tree
Promoted everybody!

Lord Chancellors were cheap as sprats,
And Bishops in their shovel hats
Were plentiful as tabby cats–
In point of fact, too many.

Ambassadors cropped up like hay,
Prime Ministers and such as they
Grew like asparagus in May,
And Dukes were three a penny.

On every side Field-Marshals gleamed,
Small beer were Lords-Lieutenant deemed,
With Admirals the ocean teemed
All round his wide dominions.

And Party Leaders you might meet
In twos and threes in every street
Maintaining, with no little heat,
Their various opinions.


Now that’s a sight you couldn’t beat —
Two Party Leaders in each street
Maintaining, with no little heat,
Their various opinions.

That King, although no one denies
His heart was of abnormal size,
Yet he’d have acted otherwise
If he had been acuter.

The end is easily foretold,
When every blessed thing you hold
Is made of silver, or of gold,
You long for simple pewter.

When you have nothing else to wear
But cloth of gold and satins rare,
For cloth of gold you cease to care —
Up goes the price of shoddy

In short, whoever you may be,
To this conclusion you’ll agree,
When every one is somebodee,
Then no one’s anybody!


Now that’s as plain as plain can be,
To this conclusion we agree —
When every one is somebodee,

Then no one’s anybody!

12 thoughts on “One Class, 114 Valedictorians….W.S. Gilbert Warned Us About This

  1. Does the school keep score at athletic events? Is every game a tie? Might as well extend the “feel good” to the extreme.

    And, Jack, a shout out for the GS connection!

  2. This is like the Atlanta Teachers helping their students cheat on the standardized tests. They are beefing up the applications of their best students to go to more prestigous schools and succeed on a more grand scale and then the school has more opportunities to claim some future famous or successful alumni. It’s just a kind of “shotgun” approach.

    If you’re looking at local schools in your community and you find out that Ivy League schools take more students from “114V H.S.” and fewer from the other local schools combined, you start thinking that “114V H.S.” is the more prestigous school. Then you buy a house in that district / city and everyone enriches each other buy driving up home values within the boundary of that school. Values go up and Assessors raise their assessments. Property Taxes are higher and the mill levy’s pull in additional money. Money flows back to school.

    It’s ingenious really.

  3. Wow, and I thought my high school was bad. There was no valedictorian because that was “discrimination” (there were also no honors classes for the same reason). I hadn’t heard of this other extreme attempt to avoid distinguishing top performers.

  4. This Ina’s been pretty common for at least 10 years. When students tell me there were 15 valedictorians of there class, I always ask them if all 15 gave the speech. The valedictorian is the person who gives the valedictory address, not necessarily the person with the highest GPA.

    I went to 2 different high schools and both had a single valedictorian despite classes exceeding 400 people, These days, I see schools with a 100 student class with 50 ‘valedictorians’. Part of the problem is that the schools are trying to give all of them that ‘valedictorian’ label so they can get the $50 valedictorian scholarship some colleges offer. The big reason is that the schools can’t distinguish the academic achievement of these students. Their grades are a joke. When half the class has a 4.0 GPA, you know the standards are a joke, the teaching is a joke, and that education is a joke.

    For Jack, this is like half the batters batting 1.000, half the pitchers pitching only perfect games, and no one has any errors! And each year is better than the last.v You know this doesn’t happen without people fudging the numbers.

  5. When I graduated we had only a Salutatorian and a Valedictorian, both of whom were recent immigrants from Vietnam. As a class we all took pride in their accomplishments and were overwhelming happy for them.

    By diluting the awarding of the title of Valedictorian the administrators are denying the graduating class the experience of being proud and happy for one of their own.

  6. I slept through high school and still earned 10th in my class (except when a paper was due, then I was sleepless…). I then crashed and burned early in college because I had no time management or study skills. Lot of catching up to do…

    The women who earned valedictorian at my school was extremely well rounded and accomplished. She was genuinely skilled at school and life. 114 students simply cannot be of this or similar caliber.

    At the same time, the class rank alone is fairly meaningless. Many, many of the 110 or so I beat out are far more happy and successful than I am today. That is something to be proud of. I earned my class medal, they earned their life mettle. (I would kind of prefer theirs, actually).

    Handing out medals kind of misses the whole point of an education…

  7. My school had no valedictorian because they couldn’t pick a single one. Close to 5% of the graduating class had straight A’s, and even using schedule strength wouldn’t be a good tiebreaker. Should we punish the person who was in concert band for four years when they could have taken other random electives that were considered “honors”? We only had one Latin class. Should those kids be punished because they didn’t take French or Spanish which had Honors sections?

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