Not So Lonely at the Top

What is the meaning of the title “Valedictorian?” Traditionally, this accolade has been bestowed upon a high school senior who exemplifies excellence and has the highest grade point average in his or her graduating class. This definition of valedictorian formed the basis of a recent lawsuit brought to federal court by 18-year-old Blair Hornstine, of New Jersey. Ms. Hornstine suffers from an immune deficiency disorder that allows her to spend only a few hours a day at her high school’s regular classes. She spends the rest of each weekday being educated in her own house, with the help of private tutors retained by her parents. Ms. Hornstine earned the highest grade point average of her class and therefore believed she was entitled to be the sole valedictorian of her school; however, because she does not spend her day as a typical student and was excused from classes such as gym, two other students who also performed exceptionally, but did not earn as high GPAs, were also nominated as valedictorians. Ms. Hornstine was outraged when she heard that there might be several valedictorians, and she promptly decided to sue the Moorestown school district and its superintendent. She could not believe that, despite her hard work, which had earned her the highest GPA of her class, she had to share this tribute with two of her peers. She argued that the notion of having three valedictorians would devalue the honor of such a title and destroy her academic career. She felt that her school was discriminating against her unfairly because of her disability. In the lawsuit, the lawyers representing the school contended that Ms. Hornstine’s immune deficiency classified her a disabled student and forced her to work under conditions to which other Moorestown High School students can not have access. These lawyers asserted that because she was excused from certain classes, such as physical education, she was able to take more advanced academic classes, an unfair advantage, nor did she have to deal with scheduling complications that hinder students from taking many high-level classes simultaneously. But despite the school’s arguments, Judge Freda L. Wolfson of the United States District Court in Camden, New Jersey, ruled in favor of Ms. Hornstine. Furthermore, in the proceedings, Ms. Hornstine requested $200,000 in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in disciplinary damages. Ms. Hornstine’s demands are utterly ridiculous. The notion that simply by having co-valedictorians, her school has discriminated against her for her disability is completely ungrounded. If the Moorestown district did not allow her to be the valedictorian because of her disability, such treatment would be clearly inequitable, but this was not the case. Especially, in light of last week’s All-School Meeting, in which Mr. Dennis Heaphy so eloquently and sentimentally addressed the difficulty of living with a disability, I have a newfound understanding of the complications and prejudice disabled people face, but Ms. Hornstine’s actions reflect a character more spoiled than virtuous. Ms. Hornstine will attend Harvard in the fall– a fact that essentially invalidates her argument that sharing the prestigious title would have diminished her future academic achievement. Ms. Hornstine should have been thrilled to earn admission to such an esteemed university and willing to share her happiness and honor with others. This case, sadly, is not the only one of its kind. In the last year alone, judges have had to consider analogous lawsuits in Ohio, Washington, and Michigan. In two of these cases, judges granted the wishes of the students who sought to be classified as sole valedictorians. Today’s high school students operate in a very competitive and challenging environment, and it is becoming increasingly more difficult to gain admittance to the nation’s top colleges. Each student wants the best for himself, but these natural desires should not be allowed to cause harm to fellow students, or to deny others the chance to share the spotlight.