A high school superintendent in Ohio has defended the district’s choice to remove the schools’ “valedictorian” and “salutatorian” titles for the sake of students’ mental health.
“As our community looked at some unhealthy patterns the rise in anxiety and depression and suicide,” he said on Fox News. “It’s the second leading cause of death in youth today across America, so we started to look at what we can do as school leaders to make a change.”
Fox News reports that the titles will instead “be replaced by honors similar to those in college — summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude.”
Now, first of all, let me say that the reported spike in suicides in the district is absolutely nothing to make light of. Mental-health issues are real illnesses just like any other, and I think it is a huge problem that far too many people fail to treat them that way. Far too often, people tell those struggling with, for example, depression, to just “get over it,” as if that hadn’t occurred to them before, or they act as though the illness was some kind of weakness or character flaw. That needs to change. A lot of the ways we deal with mental illness need to change — but the truth is, this is not one of them.
Now, to be fair, I can admit that I’m a bit biased. After all, I myself was one of my high school’s valedictorians (Yes, there were multiple: We tied.), and the lessons that I learned from striving for and then achieving that goal have lasted a lifetime. I got to see what it was like to make a lot of sacrifices, studying nearly every minute that I wasn’t busy with an extracurricular activity, to earn something that I saw as being worth it. To me, it doesn’t seem fair to whoever is at the top of this district’s classes to not see their hard work and sacrifice rewarded with the corresponding title.
What’s more, I’m not entirely sure that eliminating these titles is going to do even a single thing for even a single student’s mental health. After all, students are still going to feel pressure to strive for earning one of the other titles, so it’s not like stress or anxiety are going to be eliminated. Additionally, I assume that students will know that it still matters where specifically they fall in class rankings — whether they earn the technical title of “valedictorian” or “salutatorian” or no title — because many colleges still want this information.
In other words: This is a move that takes something away from some students, while probably not doing anything for anyone else.
Again, let me say: We need to handle mental-health issues better than we are currently. The truth is, though, doing something like this not only will probably not help the problem, but it may also make administrators feel as though they have done something and therefore keep them from looking for other, more helpful solutions — such as changing the conversation about these types of issues.
It’s true: There is still a huge stigma surrounding mental illness. There shouldn’t be, but there is. If, instead of worrying about class-ranking titles, we focused on how to change that narrative, then anyone who is struggling would certainly be better off. If people didn’t have to worry about being labeled, say, “damaged,” or “crazy” because they were struggling with a mental illness, then more of them might reach out for the help that they need.