Room for Debate: Class Day Awards

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Madeline Cohen and Danielle Martin

Co-Editors-In-Chief

Over the past few years, there has been disagreement over whether or not we should continue on with the tradition of senior awards at the class day assembly. Some see them as a way to celebrate the accomplishments of our community, while others view them as unfair and out of place. Given the heated discussions over the issue, we decided to use this topic to introduce a new series of articles on The Forum, modeled after New York Time’s Room for Debate. Without further ado, let the debate begin:

Madeline Cohen:

Once a year, teachers from each department gather to discuss and choose the single “best” student in each subject out of the entire graduating class. These winners are announced—in front of the entire student body, parents and teachers no less— in a graduation celebration tradition called Class Day. I refuse to write the word “best” in anything but quotations only because it is so subjective. If the decision could be based on completely quantitative data or inarguable facts, I wouldn’t find such an issue with it. But unfortunately, in deciding awards, such an exact process isn’t the reality, and the end result can’t be called anything but unfair as a result. Going solely off of numbers such as GPA is impossible because such a large number of people all have the same, high averages. To make matters worse, in almost every case, not all teachers making the decision have even taught the final candidates and can’t speak to the kind of student he or she is. And especially in subjects with less concrete definitions of right and wrong, a teacher’s opinion of what makes a piece of writing or art or a love of a language strong is subjective. But hypothetically, even if the awards could be calculated in a completely fair way, presenting them at Class Day still would be totally inappropriate and out of place. Class Day, as its title suggests, is a celebration of the entire graduating class, and awards do anything but. They single out (the no doubt qualified) one or two students and leave everyone else, many essentially just as qualified in different ways, with no acknowledgement. They pit students, in their final days together, against each other. Awards foster feelings of anger and jealousy, cause disappointment and plummeting self worth in an assembly that, ironically, strives to do the opposite. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mind a little competitiveness. While Latin’s intense competitiveness and the stress that comes with it is without a doubt an issue, to some extent it pushes us to work harder, be better, and grow as students in a way that would be impossible in a completely relaxed environment. But there is a time and a place for that kind of competition, and that time and place is definitely not at a grade wide celebration like class day. Outstanding students should still be honored for their work and achievements, but there are so many less destructive ways to recognize people for their accomplishments.     Latin prides itself on its students’ diverse set of talents, and awards require students to fit themselves into the box of exact qualifications necessary to win, that excludes so many of the unique passions that make our school special. Latin’s not about fitting in boxes. Latin’s way beyond that cookie cutter approach to learning, and we recognize that there’s more to people than a grade or a score or anything else we use to determine award winners. Class Day awards are certainly a tradition, but not all traditions are good ones. Danielle Martin: Class Day. It’s the one day of the year when we carve a specific time out of our busy schedules to gather as a community and celebrate the accomplishments of our peers. From graduated senior Miya Coleman’s humorous account of her time in high school to Mr. Lombardo’s characteristically witty yet nostalgic speech, I enjoyed every minute that I sat in those red chairs of Wrigley Theatre last May. But there is one long held class day tradition that students and teachers alike have debated since the beginnings of class day: awards. While it’s difficult to select only one from the entourage of the many talented students to give a department award to, the same holds true for any award. Although there is never a clear candidate, coaches must determine which member of a team deserves Sportsmanship, Most Improved, and Most Valuable player. Similarly, of the many students who submit artwork to be displayed around the school, art teachers can only select a limited number to admit into the permanent collection. We celebrate the accomplishments of those who are artistically inclined and those who are athletically superior, so why not those who excel in the world of academia? Above all, the most controversial aspect of awards is the issue of those who don’t receive anything. Most students sitting in the crowd very well know that they will not win a single award, myself included, but we should still applaud our classmates who will. The real dilemma regards the runner up, so to speak, the student who was just as deserving of the award as the one who received it. I hate to use the age-old cliché, but it’s appropriate for this situation: life isn’t always fair. There will be instances when there is only one job promotion to be had or only one championship trophy to be won, and while modifying the rules at Latin may protect us from feelings of jealousy and disappointment during our time at Latin, we would be unprepared when we watch that well-deserved job promotion go to our co-worker. Teachers often encounter the majority of their troubles during the selection process of who gets what award, but there are objective ways to make this determination. Looking purely at GPA, for example, can give teachers a clear suggestion of who should win—or at least serve as a tiebreaker in those neck and neck situations. Counting the number of electives a student took in a department can gage the student’s level of interest in the subject matter. And considering the amount of honors and AP courses can assess who challenged themselves the most. In the event that two students still remain in the running after taking all of these factors (and more) into consideration, there is nothing wrong with giving the award to multiple, equally deserving students. We could theoretically eliminate the administration of awards completely—including Sportsmanship at sports banquet, The Outstanding Teacher Award, etc.—but this would refute one of our core values. As a community, we pride ourselves on celebrating the accomplishments of others, and that includes (or should include) those in the world of academia. After all, we do dedicate the majority of our time to our education—seven hours a day to be exact, not including the time spent on homework. Awards aren’t about “winning” or “losing.” They are about commending academic excellence in a community where everyone is academically excellent. They are about congratulating a student who dedicated themselves to a subject matter over the past four years—no matter the amount of caffeine consumed or the amount of tears shed as they watched the clock strike midnight. They are about celebrating the passions of our student body, which should include the student whose true passion lies in, say, the art of mathematics and who took multiple ISPs to examine the origins of the Fibonacci sequence and later the origins of Benford’s law.

At Latin, we celebrate the accomplishments of our peers—whether it’s announcing who won best delegate at a Model UN conference or who scored the winning goal in overtime of a regional soccer match. Eliminating awards from the schedule would be the opposite of inclusive; we would be excluding those whose passions are in the world of academia and who have exhibited academic excellence throughout their high school careers.

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