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Valedictorian is an academic title typically conferred in America upon the highest ranked student among those being graduated from an educational institution. The term is an anglicized derivation of the Latin vale dicere ("to say farewell"), historically rooted in the valedictorian's traditional role as the final speaker at the graduation ceremony. The valedictory address generally is considered a final farewell to classmates, before they disperse as a collective group in order to pursue their individual paths after being graduated. The title of class valedictorian is common in educational institutions in the Philippinesmarker, Canadamarker and the United Statesmarker, while its equivalent in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Scotland is dux.

Selection

How an individual school confers the title is based upon the highest grade point average. Generally, the graduate deemed to be the highest academically ranked student in the class, as determined by the academic criteria of the school, is given the title of class valedictorian. Some institutions confer the title on the class member chosen to deliver the final graduation address, regardless of the speaker's academic credentials. Historically and traditionally, however, schools confer the title upon the top ranking graduate of the class, who thereby earns the honor of delivering the valedictory address.

Some institutions award the title based upon various criteria such as overall academic record of grades and credits, a student's grade-point-average, the level of rigor within a student's academic program of studies, a vote by school administrators, the level of participation in and dedication to extracurricular activities, and one's public-speaking skills and abilities. In other schools, the position may be elected by the school body or appointed directly by the school administration based on various systems of merit. Some schools may feature "co-valedictorians" in lieu of conferring the title on a single individual from among the graduating class. This may occur in the case of a numerical tie in grade-point-averages, as part of a Latin honors system, or to promote a form of affirmative action such as gender or racial balance.

Controversy

The awarding of the valedictorian honor may be the subject of heated controversy. Often the differences separating the top student from the nearest competitors are small and sometimes there are accusations that the winner took advantage of the rules in a way that seemed unfair, such as taking extra easy courses to get additional credits. Some schools have dropped the honor or changed the rules to allow multiple recipients. In turn, such changes have led to complaints that it is unfair to change the rules after a competition has begun. The New Jerseymarker Commissioner of Education, for example, required schools to make changes to valedictorian award policy effective only for the incoming freshman class, not students already enrolled. Another New Jersey case raised the question of whether accommodations for students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and related laws should affect valedictorian honors. In Hornstine v. Township of Moorestown, a U.S. District Court judge blocked the Moorestownmarker Superintendent of Schools from retroactively changing school policy to deny a disabled student sole honors.

Valedictory address

The valedictory address, or valediction, is the closing or farewell statement delivered at a graduation ceremony. It is an oration at commencement exercises in U.S. high schools, colleges, and universities delivered by one of the graduates. The mode of discourse generally is inspirational and persuasive. The various aims of this address are to inspire the graduates and to thank individuals responsible for their successes while reflecting on youthful frivolity and the accomplishments of the class. Above all, however, the primary aim of the valedictory address is to allow a representative of the graduating class to bid a final farewell to the students and to the school, as the graduates prepare to disperse and to begin the next phase of their lives.

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