All the way through high school, Will and Eric competed to be valedictorian. Will was always first in his class from the beginning to the end, but Eric was hundredths of a point behind him all the way. Will and Eric were in band together, but Eric was the drum major. Eric scored higher on the ACT than Will by a few points. Eric was accepted into the University of Michigan, which was announced to the community on the billboard outside the high school. I was told by the school counselor that the difference in Grades between them was razor thin.
Both Will and Eric took the hardest classes that Jefferson High School offered. Because Jefferson High School was small, they were in nearly every class together. But in their senior year, Eric took Anatomy, which was considered the most difficult class by many. Will took creative writing because he couldn’t stand the thought of dissecting a cat. He said that he would be too upset to do it because he loved our cats so much. Eric got an A in anatomy. Will got an A in creative writing. Frankly, I was surprised that Will got an A in creative writing, because it wasn’t like him. Will was so rule oriented that I thought he would have difficulty in this class. But he was also a hard worker and he listened to his teachers. When he showed me some of his work, I could see that he deserved that grade.
Eric was furious, and he wasn’t shy about letting his opinion be known. He said to anyone that would listen that he should be the valedictorian because he took a harder class than Will. He said that Anatomy was a much harder class than Creative Writing.
A few months later, as I was reading the press, I came upon a small article buried in the Regional section reporting that the school board was changing the way the class rankings were calculated. The new ranking was going to be based 2/3rds on grades and 1/3rd on the ACT score. I was furious because I guessed that this was about Will and Eric. I didn’t say anything to my family about why I was mad, but they knew I was mad. I thought, Eric already had most of the prizes, the honors, the awards, and they were trying to take this one thing away from my son.
I knew that Eric was upset about not being the valedictorian. And Eric’s father was the president of the school board. I guessed that there was an effort at the school board level to make Eric the valedictorian. But I didn’t really know, so I didn’t say anything.
A short time later, there was another small article in The Press, which noted that the changes regarding calculating the class ranking would go into effect the next year, not this year.
Will gave his Valedictorian speech, which was moving. And Eric gave his Salutatorian speech, which was stiff.
After the graduation, one of the mothers stopped me outside of the bleachers and said, “We weren’t going to let them take that away from Will. We fought for him. He deserved to be the valedictorian. Congratulations.”
I don’t know who the heroes of this drama were. And I don’t know who tried to take this from my son. It was all done in secret; both the heroes and the perpetrators kept it from us. That is just as well. But it did dampen some of the joy we felt at his accomplishment.
Here is the ironic thing: two years later, Will’s sister, Patty, was the Valedictorian of her class solely because of the rule change. If not for this school board fight, she would not have been the valedictorian of her class. Neither she nor the Salutatorian of her class really longed for the award the way that Will and Eric did.