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An inside look into the life of a valedictorian

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An inside look into the life of a valedictorian

The six 2013 valedictorians

The six 2013 valedictorians

Ava Azadegan

The six 2013 valedictorians

Ava Azadegan

Ava Azadegan

The six 2013 valedictorians

Anne Arnason, Staff Writer

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When people asked me if I was going to be Valedictorian someday, I would reply with an “um,” an awkward pause, and “I hope so,” when in reality, it was never anywhere except the back of my mind. And though I did hope to someday be a Valedictorian, a not too unusual hope for a type-A, competitive high-school student, it was never a focus for me, never my ultimate goal. All I ever really wanted to do was do my best.

I learned the value of hard work from my parents, who never expected anything less––or more––than my best. They never pressured me to do more than I could, and never reprimanded me for not doing what I couldn’t. My parents consistently reminded me that the most important thing for me to do was to always do my best. My dad’s mantra “nothing is worth doing unless you do it well” has always applied to my life, even with the most trivial tasks, like making my bed in the morning. Needless to say, it was only natural that I transferred this value to my schoolwork.

Rachel Kaplan, a valedictorian of the class of 2009 and current student at Northwestern University, similarly felt little pressure from her parents, who both attended Ivy League schools. “Most of the time my mom just asked me if I knew A-’s (and B+’s and B’s…) were just fine as long as I was doing my best,” Kaplan said. Valedictorian of the class of 2013 Amanda Semler’s parents almost wanted her to get an A-, just so she would stop pressuring herself.

Like Semler’s parents, Claire Leiter, valedictorian of the class of 2010, faced parents who also feared she was under too much pressure as a student. “My parents were concerned I took on too much and overloaded myself. But they cheered me on with every A,” Leiter said.

If not parents, then what drives these students to achieve perfect grades? Counselor Ms. Amy Larson sums it up in one word: “self-motivation.” One of the valedictorians of the class of 2012, Jack McGinn, concurs. “I am a pretty intrinsically motivated guy. I think the expectations I set for myself are what drive me in most aspects of my life, especially academics,” McGinn said.

This self-motivation never rests. “There’s a high quality whether it’s the daily assignments, tests, essays, there’s a certain level of accomplishment,” AP US History teacher Sister Jeanne Marie Vanderlinde said of her best APUSH students. Sister Jeanne notices in motivated students a willingness to accept the challenges of the course and that they simply put in the time to consistently produce solid work.

For Semler, it’s about surrounding herself with people who push her to do her best. “It’s easier to get good grades and be smart when the people you are with are smart too, it’s helpful to have so many smart kids in one grade,” Semler said. This especially pertains to the class of 2013 with six students with perfect GPAs, and six more with only one blemish on near-perfect transcripts.

Personally, I hate losing, probably more than the average person. I hate losing in sprint conditioning at hockey practice, I hate losing in one-on-ones in soccer, and in school, I hate doing worse than I know I could have, shamefully knowing I watched a few extra episodes of The Office rather than studying more for my test or putting the finishing touches on a project. But I promise, I’m not as crazed as I sound. My competitive nature only makes me better, and doesn’t prevent me from celebrating the successes of my peers. Though it does, however, push me to work harder when I lose to my most unrelenting competitor: myself.

Though most of the time there exists a sense of camaraderie among students, it is at times difficult for type-A, slightly OCD high school students to not feel competitive with one another, especially as the grades earned can determine college acceptances and scholarships. “With the top 10 percent who are achieving a 3.9 or higher I feel like there is a little bit of competitiveness, which hopefully is healthy, but sometimes I worry it is not,” Ms. Larson said.

Katie Sisk, a valedictorian of the class of 2013, competes with herself as she pushes to achieve the best she can. “I’m comparing myself to my own expectations of myself,” Sisk said. She gets disappointed in herself when she doesn’t do as well as she knows she could, motivating her to do better next time.

In contrast, Amanda Semler isn’t competitive at all. “If I do well that’s good for me, if you do well that’s good for you,” Semler said.

Students who consistently earn top grades in the most difficult classes face expectations not only from themselves, but from their peers as well. Looking back, 2011 valedictorian Lindsay Kaminski placed too much emphasis on the expectations she felt others put on her. “I got too caught up in what everyone else expected of me. I had to remind myself that the only person’s expectations that mattered were my own,” Kaminski said.

Though a lot of times students, myself included, work only for the grades, mere alphabetical characters, the combination of which carries enough weight to seemingly determine our future, at times, it is possible to remember what these letters supposedly represent: gained knowledge. “It really is more about the learning than the grades,” Sisk said.

Sister Jeanne notices in her best students a “natural desire to learn what [they] need to learn.” It’s about doing what is necessary because you want to do it, not only because you are required to. The grades I am most proud of are of assignments or projects that I truly was interested in what I was learning about, when I not only had to do it, but I wanted to. The hours spent researching and perfecting my APUSH project on the Armenian Genocide, the numerous drafts of my AP Comp paper about Rwanda, and the scrounging of the Minneapolis Library for books on the Enlightenment period for the AP Euro Salon made earning those grades so much more satisfying. These subject areas intrigued me, so my motivation came not from the pursuit of a grade, but the pursuit of knowledge, a rare, but fulfilling ambition.

Amelia Raether, a student at Dartmouth college and valedictorian of the class of 2009, embraced learning in high school, rather than only working for grades, a concept rarely understood by high-school students. “For me, the outcome of a class wasn’t about the letter grade, it was about the knowledge that I learned from that course and how it’s going to help me as I continue my studies,” Raether said.

Like Raether, Lindsay Kaminski views the four years of culminated experiences and knowledge as more important than the actual award. “It’s what I learned on the journey to achieving the award that I remember today,” Kaminski said.

2009 valedictorian Griffin Muckley feels that the award validated his hard work in high school. “At the time, it was kind of nice to get recognized for all the work I put into my school work – late nights, early mornings, etc.,” said Muckley. Similarly Meredith Gallagher of the class of 2010 was proud of her hard work in high school, but she wanted her life to be about more than grades. “I didn’t want it to define me,” Gallagher said.

Further, Gallagher feels that while grades are important, there are so many other things that are important too. The high-school students feel immense pressure to earn near-perfect grades, whether it is about getting into the “right” college, pleasing their parents, or living up to their own expectations of themselves. It is important, as Gallgher said, that we don’t let the arbitrary system of success define us. We must remember that we go to school to learn, and that the only derived success from it should be in the knowledge you have gained that will then in turn help you to succeed.

Though proud of her accomplishments, Raether recognizes the insignificance of the title of valedictorian. “To be honest, the award was just a nominal recognition representing grades, which are arguably pretty arbitrary,” Raether said. Elizabeth Vertina agrees. “I thought it would feel kind of cool, but it’s like any other title, it’s kind of silly,” Vertina said.

Though the title carries a sense of prestige, in reality, it doesn’t necessarily go to the hardest working student nor the most intelligent; it doesn’t predict or ensure success; it merely awards the students who has mastered the arbitrary system supposedly measuring success. For me, while the award is definitely an honor, it will never compare to the skills I have gained, my developed love of learning, and the satisfaction of knowing I always did my best––never anything less, never anything more.

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About the Contributors
Anne Arnason, Staff Writer

Anne Arnason has a cat that’s fatter than yours. When she is not feeding her cat, Anne enjoys raspberry chocolate chip ice cream, the Discovery Channel,...

Megan Beh, Photo Editor

Megan is a woman of culture and decency. Selling real estate, taking expensive “business trips”, and tasting wines are among her various pastimes....

Ava Azadegan, Staff Writer

Prior to becoming a writer for the Knight Errant, Ava Azadegan had never known what it felt like to be loved. She woke up every single morning and played...

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An inside look into the life of a valedictorian