Cumberland Times-News

June 8, 2014

These two were part of the Not Top Ten

Jim Goldsworthy, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

Occasionally, at this time of year, I see reference to a “class orator” or a “class speaker.”

Nothing wrong with that — people can call such things whatever they want, as far as I’m concerned — but it makes me wonder. Have “valedictorian” and “salutatorian” become politically incorrect, and I didn’t notice? It may come as a surprise to you, but I really have not kept up with what is politically correct or incorrect. That’s what people tell me, anyway. With some of them, it actually seems to be a compliment.

Could it be that the “V word” and the “S word” are no longer acceptable because they imply that two students finished with higher grades than everyone else in their class, and that one of the two out-performed the other?

If that’s the case, should the other students receive a participation certificate — something that says, “You tried. That makes you special” — in addition to a diploma?

Such thinking may prevail in some places. However, a number of my friends who are teachers or school administrators believe that sort of thing is nonsense. They do their best to turn “You tried” into “You succeeded!” Considering what they sometimes have to work with, it’s not easy.

So I turned to my faithful search engine and asked it “Are ‘Valedictorian’ and ‘Salutatorian’ politically incorrect?”

I could find no indication that this was the case, but I did find evidence that valedictorians, salutatorians and orators themselves can be politically correct or incorrect.

1. A valedictorian in Oklahoma was denied her diploma because she said “What the hell?” in her speech. She was told she must apologize, and so far has refused.

2. Another in Texas had the microphone shut off because he deviated from his previously approved remarks and began talking about his constitutional rights. The school district later apologized.

3. A valedictorian in South Carolina tossed his speech and recited The Lord’s Prayer in response to his school district’s decision not to include prayer at graduation ceremonies. The cheering and applause were tumultuous.

4. A Philadelphia area high school had nine valedictorians and picked one by lottery to give the speech. The eight also-rans had their speeches printed in the program.

5. A valedictorian in California gave his speech in Spanish, saying he had no idea it would cause as much furor as it did.

He wanted to be sure his Spanish-speaking parents understood him and had been told there wasn’t enough time to give his fiveminute talk in both Spanish and English. He apologized in advance to those who didn’t speak Spanish.

A few thoughts on the above examples: 1. Most of my columns wouldn’t pass inspection in Oklahoma schools.

2. I have been a speaker on occasions when the sound system either didn’t work or stopped working halfway through my speech. People in the audience said they had no trouble hearing me.

3. I can pray whenever I want to, and do. Nobody has ever tried to stop me. What I have
to say is between the Lord and me, and nobody else needs to hear it.

When my dad was principal at Keyser High School, the school day used to open with a student reading over the intercom from a book called “The Upper Room.”On Wednesdays, Dad had a preacher come in to do a brief talk. That included clergy from every religion around, and he said he would have gotten a Jewish rabbi or a Muslim imam, if they had been available.

Then came the Supreme Court decision about public prayer in school (which I won’t try to explain, because nobody seems to agree on what it means).

Dad had a meeting of the Keyser Ministerium to decide what to do next. The Catholic priest patted him on the shoulder and said, “Jim, if you go to jail, we’ll all go with you.”

4. Because of the way things are now handled, it has for some time been possible for students to graduate with grade point averages of 4.0 or better.

My dad was the last surviving charter member of the Keyser Lions Club and began taking the Top 10 graduating students to the Lions meetings for dinner and congratulations. When the school began graduating more than 10 kids with 4.0 averages or better, it was decided to honor my dad by calling them The Goldsworthy Scholars.

I am a Lion now and host The Goldsworthy Scholars. A classmate of mine also is a Lion, and I tell the folks he and I are there to represent those members of the Class of 1965 who did NOT make the Top Ten.

5. Considering the usual duration of commencement exercises, nobody would notice if five minutes more were added so a kid could give a speech in two languages.

Time was, people who came here from non-English speaking countries made sure their kids learned to speak English, even if they never did.

Friends of mine whose parents and grandparents were born in Italy have told me they were forbidden to learn Italian — although their parents and grandparents spoke it, probably so they could have conversations the kids didn’t understand.

My late friend Frank Calemine was born in Italy and knew how to speak Italian. He even taught me a bit of Italian, and some of it is quite colorful. This has come in handy.

Our nation prospers because of the immigrants who succeeded in their new American lives and became a vital part of our society, adding parts of their respective cultures to it and making it better than it was before.

One way or another, we’re all immigrants or members of immigrant families.

I myself am a Native American. So were my father and my grandfather. My great-grandfather, however, was a Native Englishman. Someone on my mother’s side of the family — I’m not sure who — was a Native German.

Considering all the places where my combined family came from, and the fact that some were Yankees and others were Confederates,
it is likely that at least some of my relatives shot at each other during one war or another.

A friend whose ancestry is mostly Italian and English had an aunt who was born in South Africa and emigrated to the United States, and she was a Caucasian.

She referred to herself as an African-American.

“Jim, if you go to jail, we’ll all go with you.”