What Is A Valedictorian? Defining The Top Academic Honor

When you attend a graduation, you may hear the mention of the term valedictorian. The person announced as valedictorian is usually given a loud cheer by their graduating class. Well, what is a valedictorian anyway? And what makes a person with the distinction so special?

In general, a valedictorian is a person with the highest performing student in the graduating class. This distinction is usually used in an academic setting such as high school or university. Valedictorians are honored to deliver valedictorian speeches on behalf of the graduating class

In this article, we explore the term valedictorian, from its origins to how a student becomes a valedictorian. 

We also discuss some of the questions you may have about valedictorians. For example, if a class can have more than one valedictorian, and if there is anything higher than a valedictorian. 

What Is A Valedictorian?

The valedictorian award is given within a high school or university to the person with the best academic achievement within a graduating class. A valedictorian is determined by their academic scores. However, some also look into co-curricular achievements and contributions to the school. 

The term valedictorian may have a Latin origin, coming from the term vale dicere, meaning ‘to say farewell.’ This term relates to how a valedictorian is usually the final speaker at the graduation ceremony commencement before the presentation. 

Valedictorians tend to be determined through a set numerical formula, which may be based on a grade point average (GPA) system. The calculation formula may be different depending on the academic institutions. Some of these institutions may include other considerations in selecting valedictorians, such as co-curricular achievements, or contributions to the school.

Despite most countries in the world having a tradition of honoring their best students, not all use the term valedictorian. Commonwealth countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, and India generally do not use the term as frequently as the United States does. 

There is, however, a tendency to give awards in the form of medals or entry into select lists, such as a Dean’s list. Receivers of these honors may or may not give speeches. 

France and Francophone countries also have a little tradition of naming valedictorians. Still, the term Major de promotion (“first in class”) may be used. Again students may or may not give speeches. 

Valedictorians are often celebrated within the graduating class as those who have done well academically and, in many ways, well respected by their classmates. As a result, during graduation ceremonies, you may hear valedictorians often being celebrated with a loud cheer.

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What Happens When You Become A Valedictorian?

When you become a valedictorian, you may be informed ahead and be requested to prepare a speech. You may have some interview requests with your school’s newsletter or local media outlets. You may receive college and university scholarship offers. The key is not treating these special treatments as a privilege, not right.

You may feel a strong sense of achievement when you are made known as a valedictorian, as you would have worked hard to earn it. Years of studying, hard work, and effort finally paid off. 

Depending on your institution, you may or may not know beforehand if you are named as one. Students are commonly told beforehand so they can have time to prepare a valedictory speech. 

You may need to sit down and think about what to say in your valedictory speech. It may help to watch videos of previous valedictory speeches to get an idea, or you can consult with your tutors for ideas. The key is always to include your own twist on things and make the speech personal to you and your graduating class. 

You may also receive interview requests from your school or universities’ newsletter. Your local media outlet may also be keen to arrange an interview with you. Most of the time, the questions would be about your family, academic practice, and how you were able to maintain great academic achievement. 

Once your name is out in the media as a valedictorian, you may start to receive calls and emails from universities about scholarship offers. You may even have officers from these universities knocking on your door. These offers may come fast, which may make it dizzying for you. 

However, no matter what, the valedictorian award is a great way to end your school or university life and should be celebrated. The key is to treat all the special treatments that come your way with a sense of humbleness.

What Is Higher Than A Valedictorian?

When it comes to calculating academic ranking within graduating class, the highest achievement is the valedictorian. The second best student is called a salutatorian. Oher high-achieving students may also be given titles such as summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude.

Graduating students usually have a final Grade Point Average (GPA) score. GPAs are usually calculated by looking at their overall academic performance over a set period. The period may be determined by the school or university. 

Based on the GPA score, the students can then be arranged into rankings since the scores can now tell how well a student performed over a period of time. 

The best performing student is usually considered a valedictorian and is given the honor of presenting the valedictorian speech right before the presentation of academic scrolls. The second best performing student is usually called the salutatorian and may present the opening speech during the graduation ceremony. 

Other students who have performed well but have not been given the valedictorian or salutatorian designation may receive different achievement gradings. 

These gradings or honors are usually in Latin, such as summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude. They carry meanings to separate these high achievers from the rest.

Cum Laude:

Cum Laude means ‘with praise.’ Depending on the institution, this distinction is typically awarded to the top 15-30% of the graduating class.

Magna Cum Laude

Magna Cum Laude has the meaning ‘with great praise.’ Depending on the institution, this distinction is typically awarded to the top 5-15% of the graduating class.

Summa Cum Laude

Summa Cum Laude has the meaning ‘with the highest praise.’ Depending on the institution, this distinction is typically awarded to the top 1-5% of the graduating class. Some institutions may not award this distinction to every graduating class only in special or extraordinary conditions.

Aside from summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude, there are also other Latin-based terms used to give academic distinctions to students. However, these terms are generally not used in the United States. 

For example, the term Sub Auspiciis Praesidentis Rei Publicae. This distinction means ‘under the auspices of the president of the republic.’ This distinction is given to roughly 1% of all doctoral graduates in Austria. Only around 20 out of 2,500 doctoral graduates in Austria receive this honor yearly.

Some universities in the United Kingdom may issue commemorative Latin certificates for university degrees and use Primi Ordinis to indicate ‘first class.’

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Can You Have More Than One Valedictorian?

Depending on the arrangement of the academic institution, you may have more than one valedictorian in a particular graduating class. Some institutions believe awarding only one valedictorian award may encourage unhealthy, extreme competition amongst their students and may name more than one. 

Traditionally, valedictorians are awarded to the best-performing student in the graduating class, which means only one student will get the distinction. The initial goal of awarding only one student is intended to encourage competition amongst students and to assist them in achieving better grades in their studies.

However, some also have noted the potential pitfalls of such an arrangement, as it may encourage an unhealthy, whatever-it-takes attitude towards becoming a valedictorian. 

There have been situations where students found themselves studying late into the night. On top of that, they spent more time trying to include other achievements to add to their results, such as being in sports or community service. 

As a result, students started reporting mental conditions such as depression and anxiety. Their physical health also suffers from a lack of sleep and exercise as they spend hours cramming notes for their studies. 

This has resulted in some academic institutions revisiting their valedictorian awarding criteria. They do not want valedictorians who are either only academically inclined or are suffering from so many health problems that they are loaded with medications. 

Some of these academic institutions relaxed the requirements, such as honoring the top five students as co-valedictorians or creating valedictorians based on categories such as gender or by areas of achievements such as sports, streams, or community service. 

Do Universities Care If You Are Valedictorian?

In short, yes. In the eyes of colleges and universities, a valedictorian has displayed qualities that mean they may not just do well but excel in universities. This means universities and colleges will try to offer valedictorians places in their universities, often by offering scholarships or creating easier admission processes.

To become valedictorians, students often have to excel in academic subjects. Aside from that, valedictorians are often also strong performers in sports or community services.

Such character would mean they are likely to excel in a university environment. These valedictorians should be able to come in, perform at a higher level and support the universities’ pursuit of better academic and co-curricular performance. 

Colleges and universities are also ranked worldwide for achievement, which means the more high-quality students they have, the better their institutions may be. Many universities and colleges try to recruit valedictorians to study at their institutions. 

They may first find out about valedictorians from local media, especially during the high-school graduation season. They may then try to contact you in many ways, usually through phone or email. House visits may also happen, although usually as a follow-up. 

These universities and colleges may try to entice a valedictorian to study at their university by offering bursaries or scholarships. These offers may require the valedictorian to maintain a certain GPA while in the university. Some may also offer a ‘fast-tracked’ admissions process, where they may not need to attend an interview or write a letter of intent.

Mario Garcia
Mario Garciahttps://beinghuman.org
Hello I am Mario Garcia, I find human beings fascinating, especially our more or less endearing behavior. Bit by bit I’ve come to see us human beings not as autonomous agents in conscious control of our lives, but as incredibly complex biological organisms embedded in the process of our evolving culture. Here in our blog you will find a lot of life hacks, tech tips and information about just Being Human

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