Suing their way to the top

In the past, being valedictorian of one's high school class was mostly an opportunity to subject the assembled graduates and well-wishers to a string of mindless clich??s. ("We'll all be friends forever!") But a fascinating New Yorker essay by the talented Margaret Talbot notes that so coveted is the valedictorian slot among elite high schoolers that students are increasingly gaming the system, choosing courses carefully to rack up bonus G.P.A. points, and even filing suit to force schools to name them the winner of the high school sweepstakes. Driving this trend is the practice of awarding extra points on the traditional 4-point G.P.A. scale, which allows students to reach 4.5 and beyond. So out of hand have the valedictorian sweepstakes become that some schools are considering dropping the practice of naming the top academic achiever in a class. As one principal notes, that should only happen when the high school football team lets everybody play quarterback - schools should honor exceptional academic achievement. But the system clearly needs reform, and a lot of hyper-stressed parents and their kids need to chill out. It is one of life's great truths that being at the top of the high school heap matters a lot less than you think at the time.

"Best in class," by Margaret Talbot, New Yorker, June 6, 2005

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