Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 05/ 1/2010

Should high schools eliminate honors at graduation?

By Valerie Strauss

“Watching a son’s or daughter’s graduation ceremony is one of the proudest moments of a parent’s life. Graduation Night is a time when an entire graduating class can celebrate a common achievement, so is it right that some students are honored more than others?”

That question is at the heart of an article in a recent edition of The Comet, the student newspaper at Catonsville High School in Catonsville, Md.

The article starts with a scene in which a proud mother goes to the graduation ceremony and looks for her son in the event program. It continues:

“Her son’s name happens to be between that of the class valedictorian and a future Ivy-League student. Next to the valedictorian’s name are six icons that recognize the student’s top class rank and participation in multiple honor societies. Next to the future-Ivy-League student’s name are five icons that recognize similar achievements. She knows that her child worked hard to get his name on that list, but she cannot help but notice that her child does not have an icon next to his name......"

“The programs that are handed to parents as they arrive to the ceremony clearly show the differences amongst students in terms of academic achievement. Icons appear next to a student’s name if that student participated in a certain club or received academic honors.

"There are no icons for non-school accomplishments, out-of-school clubs or sports, part-time jobs, or internships. A student may not be able to join a school club because he or she is involved in a swimming club. Another student may be trying to get a head start on a career as an electrician. Regardless of the situation, in-school accomplishments are honored at graduation and out-of-school honors are not. Granted, graduation is a ceremony for school, but it is more of a ceremony for the students who have worked hard to graduate and their parents...."

“....Many schools do have awards ceremonies in addition to graduation, so there is no need for those schools to recognize students again for the accomplishments that the students were honored for at the awards ceremony. Graduation should be a time to get away from the elitist approach of honoring the top academic students, and instead focus on honoring the graduating class as a whole.

“The solutions are simple: Take away the icons on the programs and honor cords that clearly differentiate between students during graduation, and honor those students who would be receiving those honors during the awards ceremony. Let graduation honor the completion of high school. With students being honored for academic achievements at the academic awards ceremony, the graduation ceremony should make an effort to ensure that all students are honored equally. “

What do you think?


Follow my blog all day, every day by bookmarking And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our new Higher Education page at Bookmark it!

By Valerie Strauss  | May 1, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  High School  | Tags:  Catonsville High School, awards ceremony, graduation ceremonies, graduation honors, high school graduation, honors awards ceremony  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Rhee, smoke and mirrors in the D.C. schools budget
Next: Heavily accented teachers removed from Arizona classrooms


What a bunch of nonsense. This is just like giving a trophy to everyone who participates in a sports league instead of the champions. Academic leaders are the champions of their school,and should be recognized as such at graduation, not at an academic awards ceremony which is often scheduled during parents' work hours. It's a SCHOOL. Academic distinctions are completely appropriate. Honors are a reward for excellence, not effort. It's about time we stop diminishing the achievers just to make everyone else feel better. If a student wants that recognition, let him/her EARN it over the course of their 4 years of high school work. If they want to do other things or are not as talented, then that's the way it goes.

Posted by: noedspeak | May 1, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

As an English teacher, I am pleased to see such a well-written article in a school publication. And while I can empathise with the parent of the child without icons by their name, we cannot eliminate competition from our lives so that everyone feels better and equal. (Read the short story "Harrison Bergeron" to see the idea taken to an extreme.) The students who have achieved academic success should be publicly recognized. My middle school students told me this year that a local elementary school decided to eliminate a public awards ceremony. They called the 6th graders to the office, gave them their awards, and told them not to tell anyone! How ridiculous! What is the message? Hide your abilities? Lie?

Posted by: jennypalmer1 | May 1, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

This is the way we did it at my high school (no honors, no distinctions at graduation).

And you know what? It was great. In my opinion, it fostered a much better sense of community among the graduating class.

Posted by: ewarner2 | May 1, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

noedspeak, you said it better than I could. Some kids work harder than others and should be recognized for it.

Posted by: reiflame1 | May 1, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

I am immensely exasperated when academic achievement is downplayed by our public schools. Sporting stars are feted - why not the intellectual stars?

I would rather see performance-related awards, such as scholarships, go to those whose hard work might produce a future medical, business, or education breakthrough. These graduates may provide an actual benefit to society, unlike sports stars (who I believe should have to pay back the value of any scholarship if they end up in the big leagues, but that's just my pet peeve).

Posted by: leuchars | May 1, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

I don't know Valerie. I usually agree with you but I'm calling the Whambulance on this one.

I was one of those kids who didn't have any icons by my name. My Dad died during my junior year so I had to work a lot during my senior year to help support my Mom. As a result it was difficult for me to earn any "honors".

However, I was proud of my classmates that did earn honors and felt no ill will toward them for having icons by their names. I was just proud of myself for surviving such a difficult period in my life.

(I was a bit disappointed though that my perfect attendance from 2nd grade through 12th grade was never officially noted.)

Posted by: MisterRog | May 1, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Talk about accelerating our race towards mediocrity......

Students are supposed to work hard and participate fully in high school. Many students do this. Others, for a variety of reasons, do not. While I empathize with a child who must work rather than participate in sports (and may have less activity icons next to his/her name) there is nothing stopping that child from achieving awards for AP classes, perfect attendance, high GPA, in-school volunteer work and other areas of achievement that are open to ALL children. Why deny recognition a child who has worked, participated in a few clubs and still has maintained a high GPA and managed to take a few honors classes simply because we are concerned that someone else might feel bad?? Not all students are equal at graduation..... some have achieved quite a bit. Others have not. The graduation ceremony should reflect this reality

Posted by: mtnmeyer2 | May 1, 2010 9:18 PM | Report abuse

I'd also like to point out that working and achieving aren't mutually exclusive. Plenty of kids do both.

Posted by: reiflame1 | May 1, 2010 9:49 PM | Report abuse

What utter nonsense. I was recently in a professional development where the lecturer said, "If you do your job most of your students should earn an A." The intent of the lecturer is for us to raise our standards and then teach our kids to meet those standards. What actually happens is teachers lower their standard so that they appear to have successful kids.

Secondly, I do not see anything wrong with differentiating students in High School. In their Junior and Senior years, we need to start guiding them into whatever path they choose to follow. If we give someone an A who is not capable of surviving college, then we have done them a disservice.

Posted by: spinkava | May 2, 2010 8:07 AM | Report abuse

If the Post called a high school and asked what honors a present of former student earned or what the GPA was, the reporter would be told it was confidential information. Yet on one particular day, it is available, on a piece of paper printed by and distributed by the school, to all members of the audience. Doesn't seem consistent, somehow.

And MisterRog: One recognition that should NEVER be given--should not even exist--is perfect attendance. Most of the large family living next door to me received perfect attendance certificates every year. They did it by going to school even when they were sick--and thereby spreading their germs to the rest of us. One teacher in my family missed her first grandchild's first Christmas because of a virus caught by a student who admitted he knew in the morning he was sick but wanted to stay long enough that he wouldn't ruin his perfect attendance.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | May 2, 2010 9:40 AM | Report abuse

I need to side with showing the honors. The world is not a fair place. Granted, we should try to avoid making it too lopsided, but if we take out all recognition for anybody who excels, then only those people who try to excel simply for the pride of doing so will be the ones excelling.

It's fine to say "well, people should excel for the pride they feel at doing something well", but that's not reality for most of us. People want recognition of their efforts. If public recognition of success and excellence isn't important, why does every good book on being an effective manager say one of the cardinal sins of management is not publicly recognizing your employees? The books either explicitly state such a sin, or it's implicit in the old "praise in public, reprimand in private" line.

Posted by: SeaTigr | May 2, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

I don't know when we started giving everybody a prize for showing up, but it's a big part of the problem with a lot of the students I see. I hear a lot of "well, I DID it" or "I tried" and they expect a top grade for a dismal effort.

The reality is that the "real world" expects you to DO something and earn your place. We're not doing kids any favors by letting them think that everybody's going to win all the time. Some people work harder than others, some are smarter than others. School SHOULD be about academics and if some one excels, they should be recognized.

Posted by: starrsitter | May 3, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company