Photo caption: A graduation cap and diploma. Seniors will be walking across the stage on June 6 for graduation! Illustration by Alyson Sutherland. 

As Elle Woods says during her valedictorian speech in “Legally Blonde,” “It is with passion, courage of conviction, and strong sense of self that we take our next steps into the world.” At Franklin High School (FHS), seniors are taking these steps, and many are taking with them one of the highest achievements a high schooler can attain: being named valedictorian. This is an award that has been achieved by 57 people this year. 

According to Wikipedia, valedictorian is “an academic title for the highest-performing student of a graduating class of an academic institution.” At FHS, and throughout all of Portland Public Schools (PPS) high schools, the requirement is having an unweighted Grade Point Average (GPA) of 4.0 for the first seven semesters of high school attendance, or five semesters  in the case of early graduation. During your final semester, your grades must continue to be maintained to receive valedictorian status. An unweighted GPA means that weighted classes such as Advanced Placement (AP) classes do not factor into your eligibility. Each letter grade has a number it represents. For example: an A would be a four, a B would be a three, a C would be a two, and so forth. Your weighted GPA, which includes AP classes, determines your rank within the group of valedictorians in your graduating class. 

Unlike “Legally Blonde,” and other classic high school movies, valedictorians at FHS don’t give speeches or have any special roles. Instead, they are traditionally recognized during the graduation ceremony by being some of the first to cross the stage. 

If becoming a valedictorian is one of your goals, even the beginning of your high school career counts. “Plan in advance because the calculation begins the first grading period as a freshman,” explains FHS Administrative Assistant, Sheila Dygert. “Sometimes when you’re just starting out, you don’t realize that being a valedictorian is even your goal. So if any student thinks they are interested, they must keep their eye on that goal all the way through their high school career.”

Becoming valedictorian is known for opening up opportunities post-high school and into higher education. “I have been able to use it to apply for scholarships and be able to prove my academic abilities,” explains senior Avani Stevens-Rose, a class of 2023 valedictorian. “Class rank is a helpful thing for applications.” 

The highest ranked class of 2023 valedictorian at FHS, Sitka Schmidt-Pilgrim, adds that “it helped me stand out and show my dedication to my studies.” However, being valedictorian doesn’t always make a big difference when it comes to post-high school opportunities. “Being valedictorian doesn’t mean a lot if your weighted class rank is pretty low,” explains Stevens-Rose. 

For those with their eyes set on becoming valedictorian, balance is key. “Don’t take six AP’s if you don’t think you can handle it because then you’ll get a couple of B’s and not be able to be valedictorian,” adds Schmidt-Pilgrim. “Take the classes you can succeed in and the classes you are most interested in.” That being said, Stevens-Rose includes the importance of continuing to take hard classes even with the goal of becoming valedictorian. “Don’t let [wanting to be valedictorian] get in the way of taking challenging classes. Not only will school not be as engaging, but your class rank will be lower anyway.”

For many, being valedictorian means much more than just a title, it means that all of the hard work has paid off. All the long nights studying, all the panicked entries into StudentVUE, and all of the dedication was worth it. No matter if you earned this award or not, you should take pride in making it through high school. As Elle Woods ended her speech, I will end this article. Congratulations class of 2023, you did it!

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