Being Valedictorian

High school can be challenging for many students. Besides the pressures of classes, there are countless activities, friends, and then trying to balance it all together. There is one pressure that does not need to be part of high school though. That is the valedictorian.

            I had never even heard of a valedictorian when I started high school. Once I did learn about it, I struggled to be able to pronounce the word.

            Right as my best friend and I started high school, it became obvious that she was going to become valedictorian. That was fine with me. I was smart but I didn’t look at myself as smarter than her. I also wasn’t willing to go to the same lengths as my best friend to achieve the honor.

            We had one particular teacher that was very strict. She would spend thirty minutes of a ninety minute class lecturing if someone had gum. She would go on and on about past students that had gone above and beyond. Besides being very strict, she was also a very hard teacher. A ninety six percent was an A-. Anything belong a seventy was failing. I really didn’t like the grading system but I would take any grade she gave me. I was scared of her.

            One thing that annoyed my friend was that this teacher would also give us a citizenship grade. My friend would go and argue with the teacher frequently about her grade while I would cowardly wait in the hall. I couldn’t see what her problem was though. She may not have an A but she was still doing very well in that class. My grade was about the same.

            During our sophomore year, five of us were called in to see the guidance counselor. We were all confused about what was going on. None of us were trouble makers. It turned out that the five of us were top of our class and the guidance counselor wanted us to take a certain test. I felt pretty good being in the top five. I had never given much thought to class rank so I was surprised that I was ranked so high. That was good enough for me.

            Junior year, I actually started caring about my grades. I mean, I had always cared enough to study for tests and quizzes. I worked hard on my homework and asked questions when I didn’t understand something. But suddenly, and A- wasn’t good enough for me. It got that if my grade slipped below an A, I would work hard to get it back up.

            The summer of my senior year, I had been flipping through some papers and discovered my transcript. I was very surprised to find that I was ranked at the very top of my class. I had been ranked number one every year except freshman year and then I was ranked second. I was shocked but pleased again at my rank. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to stay at number one because I was going to take an AP class but I was still going to work as hard as I could.

            That class turned out to be very difficult. Our teacher would make the tests using old AP test questions. Often, I would finish a test and wonder if the book had even addressed some of the questions. That class meant that a lot of people had to study for the first time. I had been studying for tests for years and even I had to step up my game.

            When I was studying, I would reread the chapter a few days before the test. I would read my notes over and over the night before the test as well as before leaving for school. Then, I would leave for school early so that I could attend the review session. Finally, I would study all of first period instead of working on my independent study class. It would be homework for me that night. I was pleased with all my hard work. I would do pretty well on the tests and as a result, I would get an A in the class.

            Every day, it would become more obvious that I was going to be valedictorian. I was happy but scared to death at the same time. I was also feeling bad for my best friend. My friend had revealed the pain of not being valedictorian. Her mom was putting immense pressure on her. A part of me felt bad that I was putting my friend through this pain. I didn’t want to give up this honor though. I was hoping that we could be co-valedictorians.

            As the end of the school year approached, the guidance counselor approached my friend and me and told us that we needed to work on our speeches. We could do one together or by ourselves. I really wanted to do one together. I was not much of a speaker and I had no clue what to talk about. My friend turned me down, saying that she already had an idea of what she was doing.

            I ended up writing a short speech about vague, non-specific memories our class had. The speech wasn’t that great because I was very emotional. My friend wrote a long speech around a poem we had read for class.

            If I could go back, I probably would have found some way to not be valedictorian. It just created a lot of unnecessary stress and divided a great friendship. Just because I was the valedictorian did not even mean that I was the smartest. I got it because I was the hardest worker. The smartest student in our grade often didn’t do his homework because he didn’t care. I have heard that some schools are doing away with valedictorians because of the stress it has been creating. I applaud those schools. It is one honor that I don’t believe is necessary. It is really fair to determine who is the smartest in the class? And really, what does it matter?


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