This post was written by Jasmine Malhi, a rising freshman at Johns Hopkins University. It was originally published on The Prospect, a college admissions and high school/college lifestyles website. You can follow The Prospect on Facebook or Twitter.
We've talked about the flaws with the class ranking system, but how does the class ranking system feel to someone who's on top?
I'm at the top of my class right now--the coveted position of valedictorian. "Wow! That's wonderful!" you all might say. Of course, I'm proud of all the work I have done over the past four years, proud of the effort I have put into school to learn. But at what cost? What have I gone through and was it worth it? What do I still have to go through? Here's my synthesis and interpretations of the trials and tribulations of the average high school valedictorian.
The Horrible Competition
First, I just want to discuss the class ranking system as a whole. I agree with many of the points in the article I linked earlier about the pointless classes, the ambiguity and unnecessary competition brought about the class ranking system. However, in my opinion, the competition at my school is the worst. It often leads students to cheat, breaking the very laws of ethics, and reach a class rank of #2 or #4 when students who do not cheat at all are stuck far below. Also, while these students coast along with little to no effort, I had to work twice as hard to get to where I am in the class ranking game. Even though I've tried my best to ignore the competition, it makes high school an unnecessarily cutthroat place.
All you hear around school when class ranks, GPAs, big tests, and SAT scores are "Hey what did you get?" and "How'd you do?" All people think about is "Yes I beat him" and "I got a better score than he did yay." This competition is not healthy. It pits young teenagers against each other and forces them to edge one another for a couple of points to push up their class ranking.
The Obsession with the Valedictorian
As a pretty private person about personal affairs like my grades, colleges, and SAT scores, I don't like to broadcast them. I hate being put at the center of attention and being scrutinized for my résumé and experiences. In high school, the entire school is obsessed with the valedictorian. Underclassmen want to be me in a few years, and upperclassmen envy me for my intelligence. They want to know every single college I get into and I hate it. If I tell one person, it spreads like wildfire and the entire school knows. I'm not a big fan of my business being broadcasted across the school.
Senioritis Cannot Kick In
I know at some schools, class rank locks in after the first semester. However, in my area, class rank for graduation does account for second semester senior year. I have to maintain my class rank by still trying hard in my classes. If I slack off, my rank will likely drop. It sucks having to continue along at the same level you were at before while all your friends who don't have to worry about rank are slacking off. (Of course, I'm a senior, I still slack off a bit).
The Fear of Failure
Forced to the top, one of the worst things about being valedictorian is the continuous fear of slipping up. You've been put on this pedestal, praised for the fact that you're the best. However, this assumption that you're wonderful as the valedictorian creates an irrevocable fear of failure. I fear falling from my position of getting A's all the time or writing well. I try hard on everything because of that fear. This fear is also augmented by the competitive nature of the class rankings system that causes most people to inquire about me.
It's an honor and all, but speaking as the valedictorian, who wants to make the graduation ceremony even longer? All these cheesy valedictorian speeches...
Personally, I believe that the class ranking is useful to compare the academic abilities of people from the same school, despite the terrible competition and valedictorian obsession brought about by the system. However, there are moments when I feel like being valedictorian sucks with too many #valedictorianprobs, even if colleges will wow at my rank. So, don't forget to cut some slack for your valedictorian. She's just a human too.