Gary Allmon purchased the large digital billboard above on U.S. Highway 264 in Wake County, North Carolina to honor his son, Joshua. The message was on display for 10 days through June 12, the day of East Wakefield High’s graduation ceremony.
The school recently replaced valedictorians with the Latin honors ranking system used in colleges–summa, magna, cum—as a fairer and more accurate way to honor academic performance. Josh’s transcript shows him ranked as number one, and he felt robbed.
“It’s a stupid rule that will hurt students down the line, but it’ll accomplish their goal of making everyone feel equal,” he wrote on Twitter. He has a full scholarship to North Carolina State University to study chemical engineering.
Joshua told Fox News that he hopes the billboard will send a message that such policies as eliminating the valedictorian honor harms students.High achieving students have their reputations undermined by them, he claims, adding, “It’s impossible to compete on the national stage when your accomplishments are limited by the system you have no choice but to come through. New policies are aimed at making everyone feel as if they achieved equally; this is simply not the case. Some people simple work harder.”
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the this Friday afternoon is…
Is Joshua’s father’s sign appropriate, or does it send the wrong message to Josh and others?
I may not have disguised my own view on that one very well. I think the billboard is wrong in every way. It advances the toxic distortion of education that has led to grade inflation and meaningless diplomas and credentials, in which it is the grade that matters not what a student had learned, that education is first and foremost a way to get jobs, and not a life-long pursuit of knowledge and personal growth. We have seen some school mint multiple valedictorians like Confederate money; other schools have had their valedictorians go rogue, as if winning the statistical contest somehow endows them with the right to turn graduation ceremonies into a political rally.
Perhaps worse, it endorses the obnoxious practice, frequently displayed by our President, of proclaiming one’s own achievements. One think going to Harvard teaches you quickly is to let your actions prove your worth, not your publicizing them. If you are smart—and some Harvard students are—you learn that it’s foolish to boast because there is always someone within earshot who can run rings around you in credentials, honors, or accomplishments. You also learn that just saying where you go to school off campus will be interpreted as snobbery and pretenses of superiority. You don’t tell people you are smart. You prove it by what you do..or in many cases, not.
I remember that by some measures I could have claimed that I had earned my high school valedictorian honor. Our school had its own controversy, as there was a rumored tie for the girl’s valedictorian, with the loser being the student with a mild speech impediment. The male valedictorian had the best grade point average, but had taken a lot of non-college track courses. I was happy for them. If my father had put up that billboard, I would have been too embarrassed to attend the ceremony.
What do you think?