I was prompted to research material on valedictorians and salutatorians because my oldest granddaughter received the honor of being the salutatorian of her 2011 high school graduating class. We are quite proud of her achievements which are many, and we will follow her academic career which she will continue when she becomes a student at Georgetown University in September. She was named the salutatorian because she received the second highest grade point average (GPA) in her class. The boy who received the highest grade point average is named the valedictorian. The two must also be the best representatives of the graduating class.
The valedictorian of a graduating class is called upon to give the valedictory address at the commencement exercises. He or she speaks last, giving a final farewell to classmates before they go their separate ways and pursue diverse paths after graduating. Often, particular teachers are thanked for their guidance and help to the students. The English word valedictory comes from the Latin “vale dicere” which means “to say farewell.” Some schools have stricter criteria for choosing the valedictorian and the salutatorian. For instance, a student’s participation in extracurricular activities, community service, votes from teachers and administrators, public speaking skills, and the level of difficulty of the student’s particular academic program.
The salutatorian’s traditional role is to be the first speaker at the commencement exercises, delivering a welcoming address which takes about five minutes. The discourse might highlight certain milestones, memories or anecdotes of the past. Thanks are undoubtedly given to parents, teachers and all who came to the ceremony. Words of encouragement for the future are applicable. The salutatorian may also be called upon to introduce other speakers, such as the valedictorian, school administrators or special guests.
Famous Valedictorians and Salutatorians
The following celebrities have been listed as valedictorians, either in their high school or college: Natalie Portman, Jody Foster, Cindy Crawford, Alicia Keys, J. Edgar Hoover, Chevy Chase, Kevin Spacey, Conan O’Brien, Johnny Bench and General Wesley Clark.
Famous salutatorians include Michelle Obama, singers Carrie Underwood, Connie Frances and John Legend, and author Eric Segal.
Follow-up Study of Valedictorians and Salutatorians
A longitudinal study followed the valedictorians and salutatorians from the 1981 graduating classes of Illinois high schools. One of the researchers explained “To know that a person is a valedictorian is to only know that he or she is exceedingly good at achievement as measured by grades. It tells you nothing about how they react to the vicissitudes of life.” Put succinctly by Walker Percy, “You can get all A’s and still flunk life.”