A staple of Walpole High School’s graduation ceremonies has always been the speeches. Each year, the valedictorian and salutatorian of the graduating class write and deliver speeches that they believe represent their grade honorably. The controversy of last year’s valedictorian speech, however, where the valedictorian plagiarized a speech about Chipotle, has brought to light whether limiting the speakers to valedictorian and salutatorian is the best choice.
Last year’s scandal proved that the top students in the class are not necessarily the best writers or speakers.
Walpole High needs to create a process to select speakers for commencement. Currently, since the top two students are typically self-sufficient, there is little review that is necessary in the writing process. Students have the opportunity to contact Lauren Culliton, the sole reviewer of the speeches and head of the English department, if they are struggling with speech ideas or lacking confidence in their writing. The speakers and reviewer only meet to finalize the speeches the day of graduation practice, which provides a limited amount of time to make major changes or adjustments.
To replace the current process, or lack thereof, Walpole High should create a committee designated to specifically choose speakers for the graduation. Any student in the graduating class should be made eligible to be a commencement speaker. Though the valedictorian and salutatorian are the top two students academically, that does not mean they are either the best writer or speaker in their grade, let alone both. A student can be a phenomenal writer and lecturer while remaining at average standards in classes. Not succeeding outstandingly in all subjects puts them out of the running for valedictorian and salutatorian.
Aside from opening up the opportunity to be a class speaker at graduation to all members of the graduating class, Walpole High should institute a strict application process to find the most qualified students. Each applicant should have to submit their speech to a committee of teachers who will then determine the best speeches. The school should also invest in software with the capability to scan for plagiarized work in order to prevent the issue that occurred with the speech in 2015. The remaining hopefuls should then have an audition in which they read an excerpt of their speeches for the board to demonstrate their public speaking ability. After seeing a person’s speaking and writing talent, the board should choose two people to perform at graduation in the slots that were originally designated for salutatorian and valedictorian.
Even though the salutatorian and valedictorian may not be the selected speakers for the address, they should still receive special recognition at the ceremony. Both top students should either be called up first to receive their diplomas or be mentioned with the award-winning students and recipients of scholarships.
In order to make this process worthwhile and possible within all the chaos of senior year, applications to be a speaker at commencement should be due in January of the graduation year so that committee members have enough time to review all speeches and find the best representatives of the graduating class.
Graduation speeches are supposed to be relatable and memorable. If a more qualified student is not a contender for valedictorian or salutatorian, they should not be barred from speaking simply because they do not have the GPA. Writing and public speaking are skills that even the smartest people may struggle with, but Walpole High is full of capable students: numerous students have won national awards for their skills in writing and speaking. So why not utilize these impressive assets of the school to make graduation a truly unforgettable experience?