Real lessons in achievement, disappointment

Posted June 01, 2012, at 2:35 p.m.

We go to school to learn, and learn we do.

School is much more than multiplication tables and spelling tests. It’s a place to learn how the world works, how decisions are made and that, sometimes, life isn’t fair. What may be among the toughest lessons to learn is that, sometimes, circumstances are beyond our control.

Last year, according to Lisbon High School Principal Kenneth Healey, in response to his concern that “really motivated parents” and “artificial competition” among the school’s top-tiered students was damaging to the Top 10 student selection process, he recommended a shift in how Lisbon’s graduation speakers were chosen.

In the past, speakers were chosen based on grade-point average. Four of the highest-performing students — valedictorian chief among them — were asked to make graduation speeches.

But, Healey said, sometimes these top-performing students didn’t want to speak.

“I have had to convince, to twist arms, to try to convince kids to make speeches,” he said.

So, rather than force the top four into crafting speeches, the teaching staff decided to ask the Top 10 students, along with cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude designees, to vote on their choice of graduation speakers, and that’s how it was done for the first time this year.

Next year, only those students in the cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude pool will be asked to select speakers.

Unfortunately, not all of this year’s affected students were aware of the change, including the valedictorian.

This girl, a high-achieving student and athlete, had already started giving some thought to what she might say to her peers as they embark on the adventure that is life after high school. Several weeks ago, she learned she wasn’t scheduled or chosen to speak.

On Monday, we published a critical letter from Lisbon parent Laura Campbell, calling on the school to reconsider.

Healey said that won’t happen. The decision has been made, the process in place.

Healey is not sure why this year’s valedictorian wasn’t aware of the change, which was announced at several class meetings throughout the year. “If, for some reason she wasn’t aware of it,” then it may have been because she didn’t attend a meeting in which the change was discussed, he theorized.

The change is not reflected in district policy, and “there’s no right to make a speech at graduation,” Healey said.

He’s correct that no valedictorian should ever presume they have a right to speak, but if that’s been the decades-long practice at the school, it certainly is a fair assumption to make.

And, it would have been appropriate for the district to make an effort to be clear on the new process with individually affected students, instead of making a generalized announcement at a class meeting. Even the principal doesn’t know whether all students attended.

This year’s valedictorian has told her friends over the years that one of the reasons she was working so hard was to assure her spot at the graduation lectern.

That’s not going to happen, and we sympathize with this student’s letdown.

However, after winning more than a handful of academic and other awards at Thursday morning’s senior assembly, including an award for community volunteerism, she must carry satisfaction in knowing that she worked hard in school, she has helped the people living in her community, has prepared herself for college and has developed skills to succeed.

There may be disappointment, but the real lesson here is true achievement.

We urge this exemplary student to record her message to her classmates. Using today’s social media sites such as YouTube, she could be assured her message would be viewed and heard not only by those she knows but by others far and wide. This would ensure that her message to the Class of 2012 is preserved for decades to come, and many would likely turn back to it for inspiration in the future.

Congratulations to this hardworking valedictorian, to the rest of the graduating class at Lisbon High School and to graduates across Maine for their accomplishments. They have earned it.

Sun Journal, Lewiston (June 1)

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/06/01/opinion/real-lessons-in-achievement-disappointment/ printed on September 16, 2014