Local Schools Shift Away From Valedictorians, Audition Students to Speak at Graduation

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High school seniors across the area will soon walk across the stage at commencement to receive their diplomas and say goodbye to their high school careers.

But did you know the students sending them off with their graduation speeches aren’t necessarily the valedictorians anymore? We spoke with several schools in Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley about the process they use to pick the senior class spokesperson.

"We found that the valedictorian doesn't want to speak,” Southside High School teacher Oretha Ferguson said. “They may be shy and it's just not what they want to do."

Many schools in our area have a different process to select students who speak at graduation. Fayetteville High School Principal Steve Jacoby said students audition for the opportunity to send a final message to their peers.

"Three teachers and myself judge them, and the individual student who is the best speaker is the one who speaks at graduation," Jacoby said.

Students are judged on things like content and delivery.

Ferguson, who is also a senior class sponsor at Southside High, said a similar process is used at SHS. To be eligible to speak on stage at graduation, students wishing to audition must be in good standing in academics and conduct, have attended the high school for at least one year, and prepare a three to five minute speech for the audition.

"The speech that they use in auditions is the speech they must use at graduation," Ferguson said.

While Fayetteville only has one class speaker, the Fort Smith School District said they have several.

According to Principal Jacoby, the audition process is also a way to level the playing field when it comes to recognizing a student with an outstanding GPA.

"A student who may take a more rigorous course load than another student may have a lower grade point average than a student that doesn't take quite a rigorous course load," Jacoby said.

The process gives every student, who reaches high academic achievement, the opportunity to speak.

"They have a message for their classmates that they wanted to deliver, so I'm anxious to hear what they do," Ferguson said.

For a sneak peek to some of those graduation speeches, make sure you wake up with 5NEWS This Morning throughout the month of May as we talk to local seniors picked to speak at commencement.


  • Tom Sambo

    Socialism run amok in public schools. Liberal think – no one is any better than anyone else; we’re all the same; there are no winners or losers; it doesn’t pay to work hard; welfare is good; self-reliance is bad; censorship is required so that free thinkers (i.e. those who don’t conform with what we want) are banned from public speaking.

  • Mark Smith

    Another stellar moment in Arkansas standing as 48th worst state in the union for education. Anything to prize sports and nepotism which reigns supreme in the area. Babies having babies generating tragic repetitive outcomes is ridiculous and what kept (keeps) racism alive as an example.

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