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How to Become Valedictorian

by Sydney Schoen

Graduating from high school is a time of realization for many.  For some, it’s filled with the regret of not pushing––not pushing one self to stay up the extra hour and a half to finish the Chemistry assignment, not pushing one self out of the norm and joining any clubs, not pushing one self to be active in the community. 

For some, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the friends made and fun had; it’s a time to reflect on the achievements garnered and the hard work that paid off. And, as the valedictorian is announced and his or her résumé is introduced, graduation becomes a time of congratulations as the ultimate tribute to hard work stands before his or her peers, smiles, and begins the address.  

The road to becoming a valedictorian is one paved with competition. It is not only a necessity to achieve all “A’s,” but to achieve the highest of “A’s” in some of the most difficult courses. In order to achieve the highest weighted Grade Point Average (GPA), which is the determining factor in the selection of valedictorian, one must take courses with a high “weight”––the higher the weight combined with the higher the grade culminates in a greater weighted GPA. To succeed at the premier level, class selection is immensely important.

“Graduating at the top of the class can be competitive based upon the courses students choose to take beginning freshman year,” Mark Schroeder, Director of College and Career Readiness for Texas High School, said. “Courses are weighted based upon the designed rigor of each type of course: Advanced Placement (AP), Dual Credit (DC), Pre-Advanced Placement (Pre-AP), and regular-type courses. Juniors and seniors [at Texas High] are also encouraged to participate in Independent Research, which allows students to remain in regular weighted courses, such as Music, Drill Team, Cheer, or athletics, and still earn a higher weight in courses they enjoy participating.” 

Taking higher weighted courses not only aids those aiming for the top, but also aids those who take the collegiate process seriously and wish to heighten their résumé from the beginning.

“Many times the weighted GPA can be quite close, and the number of advanced classes throughout the four years can make even a small difference for someone to earn the top spot at Texas High School,” Schroeder said. “Students are encouraged to take the more rigorous courses since, after the top two spots, students are working towards having the designation as honor graduates, which supports a student’s résumé.”

Mason Rostollan, Arkansas High School ’14 graduate and valedictorian, began his valedictorian journey during his sophomore year, having already established himself as a top-ranked student.

“I began working toward valedictorian in my sophomore year when my counselor told me that I was tied for the position with two other students,” Rostollan said. “I took Advanced Placement classes, which have a [higher] weighted GPA, in order to gain a lead over other students. Each night, I could usually expect around four hours of homework once I finished club meetings and extracurricular activities. To become valedictorian, one has to take a more rigorous schedule, but there are appealing classes for everyone. For example, my senior year, I took three advanced science classes because they looked fun to me.”

Rostollan credits the teaching staff at Arkansas High for allowing him the opportunity to master the skills necessary to not only thrive academically, but thrive on a real-world level as well.

“Success is measured in various ways: grades, test scores, ability to recall information, etc.,” Rostollan said. “I believe the most beneficial way to see success in academics is the student’s ability to make connections between the various subjects and life. I had some of the best-trained and most dedicated teachers in the area. They each had different backgrounds and personalities that worked to provide a well-rounded education for each of us.”

Ben Norton, Texas High School ’14 graduate and valedictorian, echoes Rostollan’s sentiment and emphasizes the magnitude of developing a good and comfortable rapport with the faculty.

 “Having a good relationship with your teachers and other school staff members is incredibly important,” Norton said. “I often asked teachers about certain questions on their tests that I did not understand. They were always willing to listen to my viewpoint and often allowed me to question their test answers. I learned to be an advocate for myself and really enjoyed interacting with my teachers on this additional level. My teachers always seemed to appreciate the fact that I cared enough about the subject to question them.”

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In order to handle the incredible academic workload required by the top spot, combined with the extensive extracurricular activities and community service needed to achieve a strong and collegiately competitive résumé, a balance must be mastered.

“Without a strong support system, becoming ‘number one’ is almost impossible,” Rostollan said. “The hardest part of trying to become number one was reaching a balance. The workload can be overwhelming, but one also has to make time for fun, friends, and family to cope with stress. For any future students who wish to be valedictorian, I would like to say that it is achievable and good luck. Be sure to take time for relaxing and smelling the roses.” 

The road to becoming a valedictorian is also one ending in many benefits. The extensive nature of the “job” can include a substantial payout.

 “I really never knew about all the perks of being named valedictorian until close to the end of my high school career,” Norton said. “First of all, you get to make a speech at graduation. Some people may consider that a negative, but I really enjoyed it. If you are valedictorian at a public high school in Texas, and attend a state university in Texas, you get one year of tuition waived, which can be a pretty substantial sum. Being ranked number one in your class improves your ability to get into a variety of colleges and opens the door to many academic scholarships. Another fun perk is getting interviewed by magazines and radio shows.”

But, it all starts at the beginning. Not wanting graduation day to be one filled with regret, Norton encourages prospective valedictorians and honors students to begin their journey the first day. 

“If you really want to be valedictorian at Texas High School, it all starts with that first assignment freshman year,” Norton said. “It may seem unimportant at the time, but every grade counts. Academic success is important because it can open up so many doors for a person. The grades you make in high school determine the caliber of college you can attend, and the grades you make in college and grad school define your career opportunities. Suddenly, it is senior year, and you are wishing you had tried harder in those early years, so that it would not be such an uphill battle to improve your class rank. It is definitely a huge commitment. People often associate being valedictorian with being the smartest, but it really comes down to who is willing to work the hardest.” 

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