Mailvox: white privilege

A reader writes of his experience with valedictorian politics in the 1990s.

When I was a junior in high school, my family moved to a different state. The high school I wound up assigned to was one of the early adopters of the weighted GPA system, where it was possible to exceed a 4.0 GPA average by taking honors and AP classes. Honors counted for 4.5, and AP for 5.0.

I had only two years in this system, as my previous school didn’t do this, but took as many honors and AP classes as possible, and obtained straight As in all of them. I was in the running for valedictorian despite a two year disadvantage. There were two others in the running, a black girl and an Asian man. The teachers and administrators didn’t care much for me. I don’t know if it was because I was white, or if it was because I just wasn’t from the area, but they tried to sabotage me at every opportunity. 

To get into the AP and honors classes, you needed certain prerequisite classes, of course, and they tried to argue that the classes I took at my previous school didn’t count. My old school’s pre-calc was, for example, not equivalent to their pre-calc, they argued. I would have to retake classes in order to get into the AP programs. My father managed to argue around some of these restrictions, but not others. I had to retake a number of classes. This wasted slots that could have been used for weighted GPA classes.

Despite that handicap too, at the end of my senior year, it was very close. Where roadblocks were put in my way, prerequisites were waived for the black girl. She was able to skip some. To be fair to her, she was a smart and studious woman. But they did make it easier for her. I realized I probably wasn’t going to make valedictorian unless she made a big mistake, which she didn’t.

But salutatorian was mine. Or at least it should have been. The Asian kid wound up getting a C in his Spanish class. Languages were not his forte, he was much better at math and the sciences. He was out of the running. When his teacher found out that I had dethroned him for this spot, she went back, offered him the opportunity to do a boatload of extra credit work, and gave him an A. The grade was changed at the last minute.

This was controversial, and blatantly against school policy. But it didn’t matter. I later found out why, when the local news gushed about how a high school in the racist South had a black valedictorian and Asian salutatorian. Even in the 90s, virtue signalling was thing, I guess.

In the end, my GPA was the third highest in that school’s history, up until that point. Any other year, I would have been valedictorian by a mile. They had moved heaven and earth to make sure I didn’t get on that podium. It had all been mapped out before I even got there. They wanted minorities on that stage, and my graduating class provided them with a very intelligent and studious black girl, and a math-bruiser Asian kid. It was a rare opportunity for them to virtue signal. Stupid out-of-towner white boy wasn’t going to mess up their big news story, of course.

So even before this notion of eliminating valedictorian and salutatorian came about, they were already, in effect, becoming political appointments.