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An Epidemic of Valedictorian Attention-Hogging

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Tassel of Mark Dodge, 27, a graduate from The George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., May 13, 2021. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters) The trend is getting worse.

Other than tooth-fillings and beach jogs in Baywatch, there are few things more interminable than a graduation ceremony. Speaker after speaker shambles to the podium to say generic observation #1 or switches it up to include clichéd joke #3. The average observer, likely in attendance for a single relative or friend, slowly sinks down onto the excruciatingly uncomfortable bleacher or folding chair, quietly begging for the proceedings to end. But they don’t. The program gets worse. Enter the self-obsessed valedictorian.

There are degrees of insufferableness here, measured by how many times the speakers reference themselves or personal causes. For instance, a Texan graduate started monologuing about abortion, a New Jersey grad about his mental health, and a Wisconsin teen about his sexuality (or tried to). While it may seem mean-spirited to critique youths for their passionate speeches — sure, maybe it is — they chose the wrong place and time.

The purpose of a valedictorian’s speech is simple: Talk about your class and the progress the group has made over however many years it has been since entering school. It’s an “us” moment, not a “me” moment. The valedictorian already has the plaudits, cords, and all other manner of symbolic elevation above his or her peers; they need not make the speech about them.

Further, those speeches that throw faculty under the bus are performative, petulant, and uncharitable. There are many ways to effect change in a school; rhetorically thrashing it at graduation ain’t it.

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