Valedictorian for who?
Nominations for spring 2019 valedictorians closed on March 4. Interviews with the selection committee are taking place until March 29, with decisions releasing in early April.
In total, the spring 2019 convocation will consist of 11 valedictorians, one for each convocation ceremony, with representation from McMaster University’s different faculties and programs.
Historically, the valedictorian is the student with the highest ranking amongst their graduating class, where highest ranking is determined by grade point average. This student is expected to deliver a closing statement at their graduation ceremony.
While valedictorians are still required to deliver a farewell remark, the definition has greatly changed. According to the McMaster Students Union, valedictorians are graduating students who “best represents the student community at McMaster University.”
In regards to grades, valedictorians are only required to have an average of at least 7.0 in their last academic year, or as their cumulative average.
While this definition does not appear to be problematic, and in fact makes the title more inclusive, the selection process for valedictorians does not reflect this positive change.
To be nominated for valedictorian, students must complete a lengthy valedictorian nomination package. This includes signatures from at least three members of the graduating student’s respective faculty, a two-page letter outlining why the student is best suited for the valedictorian title, a copy of their curriculum vitae or resume and two letters of reference, one academic and one work or volunteer related.
The requirements of this package already discriminates against students who do not have the time to thoroughly complete it. Especially considering the horrible job the MSU did in advertising valedictorian nominations, many students did not have time to complete their applications despite the nomination period opening on Jan. 28.
One of the largest issue with Mac’s valedictorian process is the selection committee itself. While the committee is comprised of both faculty and students, the student representation on the committee is severely lacking.
According to the valediction information package, the student representation consists of students from the Student Representative Assembly and MSU members appointed by the MSU vice president (Education).
Although this means that the selection committee may contain students from the graduating class, the seats on the selection committee were also poorly advertised.
The poor advertising for seats on the selection committee and the actual nomination period does nothing but perpetuate a cycle of only individuals within the MSU bubble being aware and taking advantage of these opportunities.
It makes no sense why faculty members especially are allowed to determine who best represents students. Even the few selected students on the selection committee are not a good representation of the student community, but rather, a representation of those few already involved in the MSU.
If the university truly wanted to elect valedictorians who best represents the student community at McMaster, and not just the MSU bubble, they would allow the graduating student community to vote for their representative through an election.
If an election were to occur, students would have the opportunity to pick who they’d like to have speak at their convocation. Students could run based on whatever merits they feel they possess, rather than those arbitrarily set out by the selection committee.
Perhaps the winning valedictorian isn’t the most “involved” student, but their actions and character make them somebody that their fellow peers opt to vote-in.
As it stands, the selection committee for valedictorian focuses on “McMaster and/or community involvement”, which is listed as involvement in student groups, student support, student government and community involvement. Of the listed examples, almost all have some relation to the MSU.
Being valedictorian shouldn’t equate to being the ideal and involved MSU member. It should, as their definition states, be an accurate reflection of the diverse student community at McMaster.
Beyond the title and delivering a five-minute speech at convocation, valedictorians don’t receive anything. Personally, I don’t see the point of having valedictorians. It’s pretty much impossible to have a single student be truly representative of their entire faculty.
But if the university wishes to keep the tradition, they ought to do a better job of ensuring that whoever gets the accolade is supported by the graduating class.