Friday, May 25, 2012

CUE RANDY SAVAGE'S MUSIC:  I met up last night with an old friend -- and do see Valerie's movie, Losing Control, when you have a chance -- and we got onto the subject how miserable the whole high school/class rank chase made both of us back in the day, a decimal-point driven battle (did you get a 99 or a 98 for the class? was the multiplier 1.15 or 1.2?) that occasioned four years of unnecessary tsuris and helicopter parenting.

I was going to do a rant about this here, but turns out I already did so nine years ago with regards to a controversy I've mostly forgotten, and since almost none of y'all were reading this site back then I'll just reproduce the key grafs:
[W]hy have one valedictorian in the first place? When I was in high school, we had one valedictorian from a class of 600, and it was nuts. Lots of us tried every angle we could to raise our averages -- some had their Science Fair work counted as an independent study, AP-level class; I had my co-teaching of a 10th grade Telecommunications class so credited, etc. 
We all ended up within decimal points of each other. We all ended up at good schools -- our year, it was MIT, Brown, Amherst, Wash U and Penn for the top kids. And none of it was worth the resentment, bitterness or competition. ... 
Just take the top 10-20 students, honor them all, and select the best speaker from among them for graduation. Life's too short for this bullshit.


  1. Adam C.10:00 AM

    Amen, and I say that as we look toward finding out whether our 5th grader will be accepted into a highly sought-after middle school program that our school district offers. It's giving us no end of tsuris, for fear of what she'll miss out on academically (yes, thinking already with an eye toward college applications) and -- just as important for a girl going into 6th grade, particularly if her closest friends get into the program and she does not -- socially.  

  2. KCosmo's neighbor10:18 AM

    Adam C, where do you live? I guess this nonsense is not just a NY thing. My daughter just found out about middle school this week--in NYC you have a zoned school, but you can apply to about 10 other "select" schools for which you either do an interview/test/some sort of song and dance. We had a great outcome, but there are a few kids in her class who are upset. Fortunately our zoned school is a good one, so the kids who end up there will do fine and have just as good a shot at the reputable public high schools. But it's certainly a lot for a 5th grader to endure.

    As for the "girl going into 6th grade thing"...oy...I'm hoping for the best. She's a good kid, but she's going to need to develop a thicker skin. Good luck to you!

  3. My high school graduated the top 10 percent of the class (50ish folks) in class rank order--the top 10% also wore red robes, rather than white robes, which made things even messier.  The biggest problem I had was how you could game the system--there were a number of classes (athletics, band, choir, orchestra being the big ones) where you basically got an automatic 100 (we worked on a 0-100 grading system, with 3 bonus points added to your grade for an honors class, and 5 bonus points added to your grade for an AP class), which people could use to push up their rank, and some folks had multiples of the guaranteed 100 classes, bumping up their averages with minimal work.

  4. I was always really happy about that B I got freshman year because it let me kick back and watch all my friends drive themselves nuts chasing the valedictorian slot.  Two of my best female friends were particularly competitive about it and I got to hear both ends of that rivalry.  Yech.

    And, in the end, all three valedictorians (including those two friends) and I ended up in state schools. As did the salutatorian, but it was Georgia Tech, so he out-prestiged all of us.

    Also, my GPA wasn't the highest in the class, but I secretly (until now) crowed about the fact that in the section of the yearbook that listed the seniors' accomplishments and activities, mine was the longest entry by several lines. I guess I just decided to play a different game.

  5. Adam C.10:42 AM

    KC's Neighbor, we're in Lower Merion, outside Philly.  The thing is, if she doesn't get into this program, she'll still be in one of the best-performing school districts in the state - but that's exactly how out of whack things have gotten: the concern is that it's still not going to be seen as "good enough" down the line if she's not accepted into this program. We hate feeling like we're part of the problem, but we also don't feel like we can opt out when we know from other friends and neighbors how competitive things have gotten from the moment these kids step into middle school through college applications. All we can do is reinforce that she's still terrific in our eyes if she doesn't get in - but that won't address the other facets.

    On the social side (which I realize is not the point of Adam's original post, but since we're talking about it...), we're already seeing increasing amounts of "Mean Girl" behavior from current and, sadly, former friends, so we're definitely working with her on the thicker skin. This part really, really sucks.

  6. christy in nyc10:45 AM

    Our valedictorian was SO far ahead of any of the rest of us that it makes sense that he was singled out. He didn't go to a prestigious college. I do remember some similarly pointless jockeying for top 5 or whatever group got to do something extra at graduation. None of them went to impressive colleges, either. None of us did. Those of us who've done anything impressive or interesting were probably scattered among the top half. Not that anyone remembers.

  7. Also, at college, I wound up with a GPA on a 4.0 scale one-one-hundreth of a point away from what was necessary to graduate magna cum laude rather than cum laude, which was quite annoying, particularly when they subsequently changed the requirements a year or so later, because typically, 5 or fewer folks were graduating magna/summa in a class of about 400.

  8. victoria10:51 AM

    It's definitely not just an NYC thing. I went to the school profiled here and while I was never in contention for valedictorian I remember all the pressure, especially about getting into "good" colleges.

  9. Christy in Philly10:59 AM

    When I graduated from high school (a Catholic girls school in Philly), the top 10 students had a chance to write a speech to be chosen as Valedictorian and Salutatorian. The #1 student ended up as Valedictorian anyway (not sure whether she had the best speech, she certainly was not the best public speaker) and I was chosen as Salutatorian. I was ranked #6. My very good friend who was ranked #2 was NOT HAPPY. Even if you give students the chance to write a speech, there's always going to be hard feelings and competition amongst the top kids. None of us went to a prestigious school-- most of us went to regional private liberal arts colleges and universities- primarily Catholic-- LaSalle, Rosemont, Chestnut Hill, York College. Holy Family. 

  10. Yeah, Watts, I was in the same boat. While people were freaking out about AP English senior year and loading up on sciences I would have loathed taking, I just hung out. Thankfully, our insurgent campaign for senior class president and vice president - using the slogan "Change is Good," so I'm still waiting for that check, Obama - won, so I still got to give a speech at graduation comparing commencement to a beloved TV show's series finale ("Friends" and "Frasier" had ended that spring as well).

    I'm pretty happy I grew up in the middle of nowhere with a crappy public school system that didin't involve competing for slots anywhere. I felt super intimidated when I first got to college and my first couple jobs, but once you realize there are dumb people everywhere, the adjustments got easier.

  11. Anonymous11:08 AM

    Ahh, wind ensemble + making county/regional band = the loophole that allowed me to get an A+ with honors (4.8) for and bump up my class rank a few places. 

  12. Tosy and Cosh11:14 AM

    When I graduated (suburban NJ, about 20 miles or so from Manhattan, small-town public school, graduating class of 96) my wife was valedictorian by a fair margin. The two girls competing for salutatorian were neck-and-neck. That year the school instituted a "one free period only rule (lunch)." In the fall, girl B's parents raised a ruckus (she was taking so many AP courses, needed the time) and they--in their sad naivete--gave her an exception, and she had two free periods. Now, Girl A, who was taking just as many AP courses, did not ask for an exception and filled that period with band. Making things more complex, the school grade point system worked such that in an honors course, an A received a 5. And an "H" - basically a strong A+ - a 6. Whereas in a non-honors course (like band) the highest possible was a plain-vanilla A, for 4 points.

    As you might imagine, Girl B had the higher GPA, but Girl B felt she had been penalized for "following the rules, and getting saddled with that 4.

    After much battling, we had 2 salutatorians.

    I sat fat and happy at 5th. ;)And played 3 sports a year (save one semester), did two plays a year, sang chorus, National Honors Society, and worked part-time.

    I hear about the crazy stuff kids do now in terms of resume building and hope our town (that same small town) is more laid back. Kids are 8 and 7 months now, so we'll see . . .

  13. Ranhorn11:17 AM

    I'm too old to have experienced this myself, but do have a freshmen son experiencing the joys of class rank now. He will not be a valedictorian but is on the all-AP track and is a multi-sport letterman. Am hoping he general well-rounded ness will get him in wherever he wants to go-- which he says is university of Florida.

  14. <span>I was in the hard sciences and the AP classes (English, History, Math), I just didn't beat my brains out trying to always get the A.  
    I do wonder how much of this is geography/school district - even at the statewide summer program I went to for honors kids, there wasn't this kind of competitiveness like Adam and Matt describe (and I'm between them in age, I think).  Tennessee: Aim low.  
    Oh, and my big accomplishment for graduation night was hosting the post-ceremony pool party. Raise your hand if that surprises you.</span>

  15. I hadn't even realized the extent of the competition until class rankings came out and some of the reactions were kind of ugly.  I had always felt our top 3 were so clearly the top three students in our class in some combination of sheer intelligence, drive and/or studiousness that "The Best of the Rest" itself was a pretty big honor.

    At one point, a student renegotiated their grade in a class to help their GPA (we were still using a weighted 100 point scale) and people were upset -- upon the urging of a few students, I went to talk to the teacher about the issue, and she said "It has come to my attention that you're also in the race for valedictorian, so I will renegotiate your grade as well."  I was flummoxed (and still kind of am), because (a) it had honestly never occurred to me that I was part of any race at all, I just liked school, (b) the grade I'd received was fine, and (c) that obviously wasn't the point of my speaking with her, so it just made a silly situation awkward, which was not an upgrade.

  16. Maggie11:32 AM

    We had a Valedictorian and a Salutatorian, but those honors didn't automatically go to the two people with the highest GPAs.  Anyone in the top five GPA spots was eligible for consideration.  My mom still gets a little twitchy when you bring it up - she thought that because I played sports, was on student council and had parents that were involved in the school, I should have beaten out the person who just went to class and whose parents did nothing. (My 12th grade self was so nervous about public speaking that I wasn't that upset).  My school now recognizes the top 10 (who I think get to select the graduation speaker from among themselves), which I think is much better.

  17. My high school didn't rank, but people on the top classes/top colleges track were pretty miserable anyway.  There are ways around the high school anxiety - I have a friend who dropped out half way through sophomore year, went to community college, transfered to UMD, and will graduate a year before those of us who went the traditional route - but generally speaking, I'm not sure how high school could be made less stressful without a dramatic change in the college admissions process.

  18. Yeah--Senior year, I had the choice between taking AB Calculus (the equivalent of first semester college calculus) and BC Calculus (the equivalent of two semesters of college calculus) for math.  Math was always my weak spot, but I thought I'd be bored to tears in AB, even though I'd get higher grades in it, so opted for BC, which I did not do well in--probably cost me a couple of ranks.  (You got the same 5 point bonus, since they were both AP classes.)

  19. I'm not sure if it's a Canada thing, or an eastern Canada thing, or a Prince Edward Island thing, but for us, Valedictorian was separate from academic achievement. It doesn't mean we weren't competitive (because those of us near the top absolutely WERE competitive) - we simply weren't competing for the privilege / horror of having to give a speech at grad.  (Valedictorian was chosen in an election, which could be a bit risky if any yahoos ran. Fortunately, we elected a terrific speaker.)

    I ended up finishing second in my grad class of 207 people. None of us in the top 10 really had any animosity toward the others - it was like the competition encouraged us all to put *that* much more effort in. We all got into our first-choice universities, so it didn't really matter in the end. (Although I was bitter at the time about finishing second, but that's another story.)

  20. Anonymous12:10 PM

    Ahh, wind ensemble + making county/regional band = the loophole that allowed me to get an A+ with honors (4.8) for and bump up my class rank a few places. 

  21. Marsha12:17 PM

    I was never in contention for valedictorian (I have my utter lack of ability in social studies/history to thank for that) but the race was VERY controversial my year. Much like T&C and others, the issue was band. Band isn't an honors class, so no honors bump on the GPA for it. We ended up with a valedictorian and three co-salutatorians. All four had completely perfect transcripts - nothing but A+s in every subject all the way through. But the three salutatorians were all in the band (and, by the way, each was all-state on his particular instrument) and also involved in several other extra-curriculars, and the valedictorian wasn't involved in a single thing and had avoided taking any non-honors class he didn't have to. (They all took the same other non-honors required courses.) So his GPA was just that smidge higher for NOT being involved in anything, and that struck the rest of us as wildly unfair.

    Keep in mind - I went to a very competitive high school - virtually everyone went to college, and graduating in the top 50 of the class could (and did) get you into an Ivy or its equivalent. I was 18th in my class - which I was not bitter about, as those people wre pretty damned smart and, as I said, I sucked at history and they didn't. It was also a very wealthy school district, so people could afford to go to fancy schools. My closest friend during high school and I were the only people in the top 30 who didn't go to Ivies or equivalents - I went to a state school because I didn't have any money, and she went to the best school that offered her a swimming scholarship.

    Sort of extraordinary the level of detail at which we all remember this stuff upwards of 20 years later, in some cases. I still remember exactly who beat me out for class speaker, who got into what colleges, etc. Really wish I could take a q-tip to my brain and clean some of this crap out. Might help me to remember to buy milk.

  22. I'm in the camp that thinks that the tsuris is there first, just looking for an outlet, and if it weren't this bullshit it'd be another bullshit. Most (all?) teenagers have all sorts of anxiety. For some it might be about not making varsity, others might care about not getting the lead in the school musical, and around here it seems like a lot of people worried about their class rank. Frankly, I have a tough time worrying too much about the kids who are trying "too hard" at their schoolwork.

  23. The Pathetic Earthling12:32 PM

    As I recall, there were four valdectorians in our class of about 290.  The rule was that one had to get all natural A's, plain and simple, although I imagine that one of valedictorians never took an AP class.  I was never in this boat since I did not realize until senior year that if I actually did homework and turned in assignments, my grades would improve.  (I think I went from a 3.0 to a 3.95 senior year based on that revelation).

  24. Class of approximately 700.  They let, I think, anyone in or about the top twenty audition to speak at graduation, and picked two speakers.  I think those making the selection did give a bit of weight to actual rank, though.  I think there was also various garb/medals you wore at gradution if you were top 20 and for other achievements.

  25. Meghan12:51 PM

    My graduating class was about 700 kids and the top 20 were offered an opportunity to try out to speak at graduation.  I was in the top 20 but elected not to try out, despite being prompted to by several teachers, because I figured no one wanted to hear, "I'm leaving this all behind and I can't wait.  I hope I never see any of you again."  Yeah, I was disgruntled.

  26. Slick1:25 PM

    I actually had the opposite experience as many of you.  Our high school didn't weight anything.  So my A- in AP/Honors was the same as another kid's A- in Senior Lifetime Sports (yep, that was a real (popular) class).  It seemed like a shite policy, but also one that I wasn't going to get myself too worked up about.  I'm not advocating total performance apathy, but the stress that I see in some kids I know is pretty concerning to me.

  27. Christy in Philly1:27 PM

    It's so funny now remembering our rank, the honors and regalia. We all found each other on this quirky piece of the internet. Next week, we'll get all excited about kids spelling.

    I tell the high school students I work with that anyone worth knowing as an adult was a nerd or dork in high school. This conversation proves me right. I like you guys so much.

  28. Watts, you are the best. That May and early June involved way more energy being spent on the post-ceremony pool party planning than it did on worrying about class rank.

    My AP English class - there was only one, very small school - led to a similar situation to T&C's below, as it basically came down to that course for the two girls vying for salutatorian. I remember both of them starting on speeches and asking for extensions on our final papers. I imagine that was light compared to a lot of the jockeying now.

  29. J.O'Connor1:36 PM

    Ugh.  The whole topic of class ranking makes me vaguely nauseous even now, almost twenty years after my last graduation.  I'm the unfortunate type of person who was tempermentally unfit for the pressure of trying to compete for class rank (too much performance anxiety and self sabotage), but yet not secure enough to just say the hell with it.  Instead, I ended up somewhere in the middle of the smart kid pack, sort of like a cross-country runner saving for the final kick in the homestretch, who never actually kicks but consoles himself with the thought that maybe he could have won if he had.
    On the brighter side, this post has inspired me to google my own high school valedictorian (yes, I know, a decade after google and facebook and I've never done it before;  sue me, I'm a late adopter).  I remember him as being both very smart and very cool.  From two minutes searching, it appears he's now a professor of mathematics and a former professional poker player, which somehow makes me feel much better since (at least on the internet) he seems to be every bit as smart and cool as I remember.

  30. Watts2:02 PM

    When my mom graduated in 1965, she and another girl tied at the top of the class with the exact same GPA. Mom had taken honors classes and been involved in lots of academic/social activities. The other girl had done only Vocational/Tech classes and hadn't done any extracurricular stuff. They called Mom in and told her they were naming the other girl valedictorian because they wanted to encourage students in the Vo/Tech track to achieve similar good grades. 48 years later, I bet if you brought up to Mom, she'd still be ticked off.

  31. Emily W2:33 PM

    At my school, grades in gym class counted toward your GPA, so I was never going to be #1 anyway. But, even though we were a very highly regarded suburban Philly public high school, I don't recall the competition being all that fierce, because the only student who ever spoke at Graduation was the President of the Class. Academic and other honors were awarded at a separate senior awards night the week before graduation. The only acknowledgement of any academic achievement at Graduation was a star next to the names of the students in the top 10% (of a graduating class of 325).

    There's a little more competition now at the school I teach at (small, public theme school in Brooklyn), but it tends to be more boys vs. girls rather than #1 vs. #2 vs. #3. (We are about 77% male, but this year will be our 5th graduation, and the 3rd one where both the valedictorian and the salutatorian are female. Next year's class will have 2 girls at the top also.)

  32. sconstant3:01 PM

    Amazingly, I remember absolutely no issue with class rank, never letting it enter my mind in figuring out what to take, and being only vaguely aware that other people were going for X in place of Y because year 3 of X was an honors class with a bump.  And I am not sure what rank I had in my class - I know I was in the top ten, and that I wasn't the among the top two or three.  I have NO idea why I was immune, I just was.  Possibly grades for gym counted, and as an ok-but-you-will-never-get-an-A gym participant, I knew I was out of the running anyway?

    I did speak at graduation - we had a bunch of people (maybe everyone in the top 10%) in a big meeting and there was a secret ballot as to who would speak, which I won, without any politicking or (more importantly) preparing or delivering a sample of the speech.  I'm sad to report that my speech was quite forgettable, and was later used as the "wah-wah-wah" background of a John Hughes movie about high school where they needed an insipid and ignorable background speech to be going on while things were happening amongst the assembled.  (Ok, not really, but it could have been.)

    I am happy to report that I am happy, even so.

  33. susan3:12 PM

    I have a friend who teaches civics in a large high school.  It is a required course for seniors.  A few years ago one of her classes was especially interested in the Supreme Court so she juggled her lesson plans a bit and extended the time spent on the Court in that class by a couple of days. She loved the challenge and felt the students gained a great deal from the experience.  But there were complaints by parents who felt she was giving students in that class an extra advantage over students in other classes.  The next year there were new guidelines and now every civics class is on the same page on the same day and the lessons are pretty much scripted.   She doesn't dare do anything extra or inspired or too creative for fear she'll be sued.  There have been several lawsuits filed in her district over the determination of valedictorian and who makes it into the top 10 percent of the class.   My friend is leaving teaching this year.

  34. Mr. Cosmo3:19 PM

    Everybody gets a trophy.  Fneh.  If a kid is willing to work hard enough and long enough to get the top spot, honor him or her. 

  35. Becca3:43 PM

    Ah, yes, growing up in a small town with only mediocre public schools. We had a few private schools, but they were religious (one Catholic, one Southern Baptist), so I wasn't going to them. I knew I wasn't as bright as the REALLY bright kids, so I just did my thing. We had 2 valedictorians and 2 salutatorians. Out of my graduating class of around 300, I'd guess maybe a quarter went to college (maybe? I'm really not sure), and I just learned this morning that our 20th reunion has been cancelled due to lack of interest, even though the vast majority of the class still lives in town, or in the region. 

    I wonder if anyone in my class was even encouraged to apply for top schools? I know the "counseling" at my school was a joke (our school counselor was also a cheerleading coach--she regularly lost people's paperwork in her office), so it's very possible that it never even occured to anyone. It's a small town mentality. Good schools are for fancy people, and we weren't fancy people. Also, the vast majority of the good schools are SO FAR AWAY from Florida. I'm sure most were encouraged by their families to stay local, especially the girls from religious families. My parents suggested I research other schools, and I did look at Mount Holyoke at one point, but yeah. Super far away, super expensive, and there was no way I was getting a scholarship. 

    It's interesting to me that it's not just the opportunites afforded to you by living in a larger town. It's also the mentality that it shapes. Everything just seems so completely unattainable.  

  36. This isn't about everyone-get-a-trophy; it's about the fetishization of tiny differences which may not constitute differences at all.

  37. Watts3:50 PM

    Exactly, Becca, exactly.

  38. Maret4:17 PM

    I went to an amazing, very small, college-prep, private school with 43 people in my graduating class, all of whom went to college right after school. We had one valedictorian, and while we were all smart, competitive people, there weren't class rankings. The school, unlike other private high schools in the area, worked really hard to foster an environment where everyone supported one another and where differences and achievements were celebrated and supported, so the competition was pretty much with our own personal scores and records.

    Reading all of these comments stresses me out and makes me feel all the luckier that I was able to go there. Thanks to facebook, I'm in touch with a majority of my graduating class and a number of people in the classes before and after mine, and I know that most of us couldn't tell you who the valedictorians of our classes were -- not because we weren't excited for them at the time, but because while it was a celebrated achievement, we all had different awards and honors we received during out years at school, so we all just sort of universally supported one other and cheered each other on. 

    I'm one of the few people I know who LOVED high school.

  39. Lou W4:30 PM

    Wow. I've been a faithful reader of ALOTTFMA for a long long time, and I don't think I've ever felt like more of an outsider than this thread (and I am not a lawyer).  I literally had no idea any of these issues existed.  I graduated 9 of 24 from a small <span> </span>private school, and other than being a bit bashful that I hadn't made the top third, I could never have cared less about class rank.  The only time I remember thinking about it was that my best friend was #2 by a tiny bit, only because he took French where dept. policy was not to give A+'s, while #1 took Spanish where the profs would. In my school SAT scores were considered far more important than class rank for college acceptance, but again, there wasn't any competition (well, I won $5 from my friend for beating him :) ).<span>  </span>Among the top students I just remember a lot of support during the whole college application process.<span>  </span>

    My kids are about to enter middle school, and this thread has freaked me out.<span>  </span>I didn’t realize this level of stressful competition over rank was so common.<span>  </span>Can anyone on this thread really claim that they think that their college acceptance would have been affected by a shift of a few places in class rank?<span>  </span>I guess I know that in some cases it must, as I remember that my grad school roommate was Salutatorian, and at his school finishing in the top 5 meant a free ride to Wisconsin, so a fight at the margin would make sense. <span> </span>But I sure hope I can keep my kids, and myself, from getting caught up in this status fight.<span>  </span>Yet it seems like that might be a lot harder than I would ever have imagined.

  40. Lou W4:37 PM

    Maret, I was writing my comment below while you were writing yours, but it hits a similar note.  But you really nailed it about the benefits of a small, friendly, private school.  I didn't realize it while writing, but I really take my high school experience for granted.  And since my wife went to a boarding school, her experience is also abnormal, so between the two of us we are really naive about what a 'typical' high school is like.  This thread has been a reminder that we are going to have to be prepared for a lot of surprises when as my son gets into middle and high school, even in our top notch school district.

  41. spacewoman4:52 PM

    I really hope my kids turn out like you. 

  42. Andrea5:06 PM

    For one of the worst examples of this, I give you Hornstein v. Moorestown.  Briefly, Hornstein was home schooled because of an undisclosed illness, had the ability to take more AP classes, did not have to take physical education, and ended up with the highest GPA.  The superintendent decided on co-valedictorians, the parents sued, and won.  Because the town viciously turned on the student and her family, she did not attend graduation.  Further, Harvard rescinded her acceptance, because of allegations of plagiarism.  But a quick search revealed she is now a law student.

    As an educator, I wish I could speak openly to you all about the grade grubbing that I deal with, but I do not feel free to do so.  

    <span> </span>

  43. sconstant5:12 PM

    This ranks in the top ten things anyone has ever said to me.  Still willing to collude to try to become machetunim...

  44. Andrea, indeed, that's the original story from nine years ago on which I was commenting.  She took way more shit than she deserved, even given the plagiarism thing (which was blatant), and I hope wherever she is, no one asks her about this anymore.<span> </span>

  45. kenedy jane5:47 PM

    As the mother of a college junior (oops, semester is over - senior!), I could write a novel on all of this - and will try to edit myself.  My experience was a smallish high school (about 350 in the graduating class) in Abilene, Texas.  Grades were way too important to me but I was (luckily) disadvantaged by moving there just before my sopohomore year.  I had taken the wrong classes to be in contention for the top spots. (I had taken honors courses and advanced classes but they weren't weighted the same in my new school).  Because of this, I never thought about those top spots.  I graduated 18th in the class which was great because the top 20 of the three local high schools had an awards ceremony just for them and I didn't have to speak in front of anyone!

    When my daughter reached high school age, I was shocked at the plotting and planning parents and their children were doing to get those top spots.  My daughter was not interested.  She does well in school and takes advanced classes but is okay as long as she gets an A or B.  She prefers the A but isn't heartbroken if it doesn't happen.  In fact, because she made the cheer squad, I limited her to 2 AP classes per year to make sure she had time for all of her commitments.  Parents thought I was crazy not to let her take 4 or 5.  I think the most important thing to remember as a parent is that college should be the child's choice, not the parent's.  My daughter briefly considered NYU but then only concentrated on state schools.  She decided that she wanted a school with a strong academic program but also a large school (her high school had 2800 students so small colleges seemed like a step back to her), athletic programs, greek life - lots more than just an academic experience.  She graduated in the Top 25% (but not Top 10%), was involved in many activities and landed at the very school that was her first choice.   Truthfully, I wish I had been more like her when I was in school!

  46. Jessica6:16 PM

    I was one of 7 valedictorians.

    Valedictorians were based on unweighted GPAs

    I and four of my peers took Calculus.

    2 of the remaining 7 took Pre-Calculus

    1 only took up to Algebra 2.

    There are flaws to any system.

  47. Jessica6:19 PM

    I was two one-hundredths from suma cum laude, but I only blame myself. And Niles Rowe.

  48. Jessica6:23 PM

    We had a girl like this in my class...she was the worst.

    I was madly competitive but in a quiet way. I just focused on what I could control - SAT, ACT, PSAT, Literary Rally, and kicked the pants off those. Valedictorian was just gonna go to all 7 of us with straight As...and That Girl was gonna get "student of the year" despite me kicking her pants in all non-school-related academic metrics (where we tied).

  49. Andrea6:29 PM

    Do forgive me for not fully reading/clicking (or remembering!  I was reading you back then!).  So are we saying we cannot hold high school against the adult?  That is fine, depending... (skirts no politics rule).  I guess I am coming at it from the educator side - the public education system is suffering, and I rage when I see parents manipulating a weak system.  But as the comments point out, this is nothing new.  I believe you have asked this question about being lawyer, how different the career is from what you thought it would be.  I am 18 years in, looking at another 20.  10 years ago, I thought the major changes to teaching would come from technology.  I was wrong. It is now about grade grubbing, and accustations of "you are ruining my child's life/future."
    I have a lingering question about the Moorestown story.  If she was too sick to go to high school, how was she going to go to Harvard? (NY Times sataes she went to Scotland.)
    Where is she? Philadelphia, becoming a lawyer, accroding to her LinkedIn profile.  Would you hire her?

  50. I don't know how much of that fight was hers, and how much of it was her parents'.  So in interviewing her, I'd ask her about it, and what she had learned from the experience.

  51. Maddy7:24 PM

    As someone who was too sick to attend most of high school, that whole situation just sounds like a nightmare.  The plagerism is absolutely on her, but had that not happened, I would totally be in her camp (not that my parents ever would have sued to get me the valedictorian slot, but I understand the motivation).  I cannot tell you how many people in high school told me I was lucky because I didn't have to go to school and had extended time to complete my work.  Now when people say that I'm lucky I ask them if they'd like to trade my chronic illness for their strict deadlines, roommates, etc., but it was hard to deal with in high school and I feel for her.

  52. spacewoman8:04 PM

    That would be awesome on all kinds of levels. 

  53. isaac_spaceman8:10 PM

    This whole thread is a complete nuclear armageddon of humblebrag.  And also just brag. 

  54. J.O'Connor8:41 PM

    ItIt's not bragging until someone mentions their SAT score.

  55. not mentioning any names....9:36 PM

    I went to parties, drank and met boys.  I don't really remember my ranking.

    I'm still a lawyer.

    Regrets?  Nope.  I just saw a lot of stressed out teenagers.  I'm happy to report that many of them are happy today.  But not all.

  56. Sheila10:20 PM

    I'm a little late to the party but thought I'd add another "mom" story. My mom graduated in 1967 and was ranked second in her class. But because the valedictorian was also a girl, "they" told my mom that she couldn't be salutatorian and gave the honor to the 3rd-ranked boy in place of her. Like Watts' mom, I think she's still annoyed by this.

  57. To help with the whole 'Mean Girl' ordeal, the book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman (the nonfiction book that inspired the movie) is amazing. I can't recommend it enough- it is the single best resource I know of.

  58. XXXX.

    2.3 GPA. I am familiar with the competition of which you speak, but have never understood it.

    (The X's were originally my SAT score, because hey, funny, but then also dickish. Point is, much higher than the GPA implies.)

  59. Just look at the raves for Losing Control:

  60. Adam C.12:25 PM

    Thanks, Rick.  My wife has read it -- I probably should too.

  61. Marsha11:09 PM

    Lou, I completely understand why this would freak you out. I just want to note that if you read most of these comments, the things that people remember (and are still a little bitter about) are mostly the unfairness of parts of the system - the people who gamed things and, they/we feel, cheated us or others out of what we/they "rightfully deserved." Yes, I might have gotten into better schools (or, more importantly, gotten better scholarships) if I'd been valedictorian, but I was ranked #18, not #2. I deserved to be ranked 18 or so - the people ahead of me were wicked smart and based on Facebook, they're doing impressive things. I'm not bitter about my rank, but it still rankles me that I had to listen to our very boring valedictorian give a very boring speech, instead of one of the three salutatorians who worked just as hard, and were much more well-rounded and interesting, and were punished for it.

    Yes, I know that fair is a  four letter word. But to an ambitious teenager, it's important.

  62. Jenn.6:11 PM

    That's just awful. Ugh.

  63. Jenn.6:24 PM

    I don't think I knew my class rank until the start of senior year, when I hint I was given a transcript to help with selecting where to apply for colleges. Before that, the only time I remember thinking about class rank was to be bitter about the fact that the boys' gym teacher gave all of the guys an A, as long as they showed up, dressed for gym, while the girls' gym teacher graded on a curve. I shudder to think of what my grades would have been if my health grade wasn't combined with my actual gym grades.

  64. I was also a hundredth of a point from summa.  I guess it still bothers me...