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The decision not to allow the class of 2009 valedictorians to make speeches at this year’s Anderson County High School graduation was made about two years ago, said Principal Ray Woodyard.
Two years ago the senior class sponsors decided to try to streamline the graduation ceremony and cut out some things to make it shorter, Woodyard said.
As a result, the salutatorian speeches were cut out of last year’s graduation and the plan was to cut the valedictorian speeches this year, he said.
Community members and students raised concerns this year about the lack of valedictorian speeches.
One of the valedictorians, Alex Cheser, complained in a letter to The Anderson News about the decision and questioned why the ceremony has to be so short.
“What about tradition?” Cheser wrote. “No one wanted a three-hour ceremony, but what was six more minutes? Will we become so fast paced that in 10 years they’ll just send your diploma via text message?”
Some students said they were originally told speeches would be allowed, but then were informed that the speeches had been cut.
Woodyard said there was a miscommunication with one of this year’s senior class sponsors who told the valedictorians they could make speeches.
When that sponsor approached Woodyard about the speeches, he said he would consider making them optional. However, when the announcement was made that the class would have three valedictorians, the decision was made to go ahead with the original plan.
Cheser said his graduation memory will “forever be tarnished.”
“I was very close to going to the microphone and speaking anyway,” he wrote.
Questions were also raised as to why the class officers were allowed to give speeches, but students earning top academic honors were not.
Woodyard said the class officers are elected by their peers and part of becoming a class officer is knowing that officers will be asked to make a speech at the end of the year.
The honor of being valedictorian or salutatorian is an earned award, Woodyard said. It is not voluntary and some students would rather not give a speech, he said.
The school’s site-based decision making council has had discussions about eliminating student rankings, including valedictorians and salutatorians, Woodyard said. But the council has not decided to take that step.
“A lot of schools just don’t have them altogether,” he said.
Sometimes becoming valedictorian or salutatorian turns into a battle among the students, and they “tend to lose focus on why they’re getting good grades,” Woodyard said.
The graduation ceremony will continue to be streamlined next year, he said. At this year’s graduation, students who received commonwealth diplomas walked across the stage twice: once to get a commonwealth diploma and once to get a regular diploma. The plan for next year’s graduation is for students who receive commonwealth diplomas to walk across the stage only once with the rest of the class. However, as their names are called, it will be noted that they are commonwealth recipients.
E-mail Shannon Mason Brock at firstname.lastname@example.org.