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Giving academic credit where credit is due

David O. Williams

Everyone hold your breath I’m about to express a conservative point of view:This is America, a capitalist country built on the cornerstone of fierce competition, and every day we are engaged in a Darwinian struggle for supremacy that defines the winners and the losers in this society.For centuries now this system has worked and worked well in all aspects of our society: business, culture, sports and education. And it’s a model that has made us the dominant nation on the globe.Maybe because I started as a sports writer, I’ve always preferred it that way. I like winners and losers. I like things in black and white. You either get total credit or total blame in my book. There are no gray areas.Then I moved to Vail, and covered my first soccer match at a private high school that shall remain nameless. I missed some of the action, and the coach, who also shall remain nameless, told me he couldn’t fill me in on who did what because it was school policy not to single out one kid over another for individual praise.The story went something like this: “An unnamed player playing an unidentified position did something to impact the end result of the match, which was unknown at press time.” Thanks, coach. No one knew what happened, but on the upside, no one was humiliated or lauded.Which brings me to a far more important arena of accomplishment: academics.It’s high time Battle Mountain High School fixes its policy of no longer acknowledging a valedictorian or salutatorian (the two students with the first and second highest grade point averages) during graduation ceremonies.I asked BMHS Principal Mark Bullock about the policy, which he says he inherited and did not implement, and he rather reasonably explained that the current practice of honoring students who are cum laude (gpa of 3.75-3.89), magna cum laude (3.90-3.99), and summa cum laude (4.0 or higher) resulted in praise being heaped on 11, 6 and 7 students in each respective category.Fine, I say, I’m all for strength in numbers, but lumped in with those seven summa kids was Dak Steiert, son of Vail Trail correspondent Connie Steiert (who in no way influenced my writing of this column) and the de facto Battle Mountain valedictorian who is bound for Stanford.No offense intended, says Bullock, a Stanford grad himself who says academics are at the forefront of what is being emphasized at Battle Mountain. And I have no reason to doubt him.I just think academics ought to be singled out as competitively as sports or any other honor such at outstanding boy or girl. Perhaps even more so in this day and age when American kids routinely come up short in comparison to kids from other countries who are better trained in mathematics and the physical sciences.That honor of valedictorian gives the brains something just as laudable to strive for as the jocks, and it points out a clear winner in an often undervalued arena.David O. Williams is a longtime local writer who never came close to being top of his class, so he became a journalist. E-mail him at dwilliams@vailtrail.com.


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