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Opening Arguments

No more No. 1

The campaign to completely strip young people of any drive, ambition and sense of competitive urgency, alas, lurches along:

 The top student in a high school’s graduating class used to earn the honor of being the valedictorian, and traditionally that one student delivered a commencement speech that helped send his or her classmates out into the adult world.

But at Arlington’s Washington-Lee High School this year, there were 117 valedictorians out of a class of 457. At Long Beach Polytechnic in California, there were 30. And at some schools — including North Hills High outside of Pittsburgh and high schools in Miami — there were none.

The nation’s high schools are changing the way they recognize top students, struggling to balance praise for them while also quelling unhealthy competition among classmates as the college application process grows more cutthroat.

Ah, that infamous "unhealthy competition." Where is that magic line, the one between healthy and unhealthy competition? Pointless question, I guess, since what they really usually mean is any competition is unhealthy because it destroys the self-confidence of some of the little snowflakes. There are two ways to stifle that competitiveness. Have no winners -- what's a valedictorian? -- or make everybody a champion. Why the hell not have 457 valedictorians?

You know the old riddle: What do you call someone who graduated last in his class at medical school? Answer: Doctor. Which graduate do you want for your doctor? Someone who graduated in the top 10 percent or someone from the bottom half? The story says the situation is "vexging" college admisstions officers, who don't know if a student finished 1st or 100th in the class. I don't doubt it. There is a whole chain of competition from the day we first enter school till the day we retired. The high school is just one link in that chain -- removing it just makes it harder for the kids to compete once they gt out into the real world.

Somebody just had to say it, and sure enough, someone in the story actually does: "That high school diploma declares you all winners." If everybody's a winner, nobody is. Way it is.