When You Only Become a Salutatorian?

It is March again and most schools are having their own commencement and graduation ceremonies this week in the Philippines. The highlight of these ceremonies is to appreciate the efforts of the students, their parents, guardians and teachers. However, given this is a popular Philippine event, this can be a source of controversy and competition, as the school announces the best performing students for the year, and gives out several awards for those students, who showed excellence in various fields.

Personally, I looked forward to every recognition day I had before. I remember I was so focused on getting an award and placing on top, while learning as well. This served as my goal and inspiration each year, such that I even displayed my awards at home, and eventually made a system to store them. From time to time, I checked every award I had. In this way, I conditioned my mind to achieve higher and higher. From ordinary awards, multi-city competitions, scholarship awards, special citations to being a Valedictorian and Summa Cum Laude thereafter, these are few of the greatest achievements I got during my school years. However, before all those top awards, I had been a perennial Salutatorian, the second best of the batch. It was fine, but not enough most say. So, how was it?

Being the second best of the batch for almost 5 years in my batch was perhaps more of a challenge and frustration for me. I did not consider it as a failure, because it was still an achievement. Not everyone got to be awarded as such. However, recently, I read a news about a Salutatorian making a controversial speech, seemingly asking for a change for an alleged ineffective corrupt school system, that resulted for her to awarded only as Salutatorian, inspite of her efforts and sacrifices. This news has drawn so much interest from many, including me who had similar experiences before which I will no longer elaborate.

Here are the 3 things a Salutatorian must bear in mind:

Your award gets more credibility when there are more people desiring for it.

Being a Salutatorian from a school with graduates of 2500 is better than a Valedictorian of school with only 100. This does not imply one must determine who achieves more. However, there should be more emphasis in numbers. The more people desiring an award, the harder it is to get. This gets to show that more hardwork is needed to achieve such. This is the reason I take more pride in being ranked 6th in the Philippines in the nursing licensure exam among 88,000 examinees, than being the first Summa Cum Laude of a nursing school with less than 10,000 graduates in the last ten years. I even consider either being one of the best Mathematics Olympiader in Mindanao, or being Intarmed scholar (special government scholarship for those students who want to take up the fast-track medicine course) in the University of the Philippines more credible than any school awards, since among millions of Filipino students, I was considered one of the best.

So what is my point? I am trying to imply that the news about a Salutatorian in a particular secondary school in a particular Philippine city seems to be overblown. It gives the connotation that being a Valedictorian seems to be a recognition worth all the noise and attention. Yes, it is difficult to achieve, but that award is simply more popular than credible. Many people would disagree with the tone of my opinion, but being a school achiever myself turned teacher, I learned to determine what kind of reaction I will show, based on the magnitude of the situation grounded on objectivity and statistics.

PS: Read the other two before making a reaction.

Your award must be confirmed and be consistent with your vision and aspirations.

After differentiating which citations are more credible than others, now it is appropriate to dig the deeper meaning of achievements - vision and aspiration. When one gets awarded, he or she might be given the opportunity to give a speech infront of an audience. In this speech, he or she must not merely present himself or herself as an inspiration for others, but more importantly, he or she must concretely pinpoint his or her vision for the common good. What would be disappointing in a speech is that if the achiever fails to discuss his or her vision for the society. The rule of thumb stays that one gets award to serve others; not the contrary, which states one must serve others first to get an award. Hence, the person, who achieves more must serve more.

So if I were to give an advice to that particular Salutatorian in certain Philippine secondary school, she must move on and try to ask herself how she could be of help to others. I would remind her that the measure of success is not how high she can go after school in terms of recognition and earnings; but how low she can be in reaching out to those, who needs help using the knowledge and skills you learned from school. This is a challenge not to be fulfilled immediately but this takes a lifetime. I have not fully realized this challenge, but I am on my way I think. This applies not just to us, who achieve more; but also to everyone, who cares.

Your award is an evidence of hardwork, grit and diligence, which you need for success.

The most important aspect of an award is to acknowledge one's hardwork and effort. This does not mean that the more awards one gets, the more successful he or she will be. Instead the more awards one get, this shows that the person is more hardworking and diligent than most people to realize a goal. Although I recognize that there are other factors to consider in getting an award, such as the people who gives the award in terms of their credibility and intentions; this however does not undermine the true meaning of an award.

Lastly, no one must underestimate anyone, either with or without awards. Bottomline in life, it is not about awards. Neither life is about how one performs at work after finishing school, or how much one earns. Life is about making service to others more than ourselves and even beyond the circle of our family and friends. One should think that the more achievements one gets; the higher expectation exists not to achieve more for oneself, but to upgrade competencies necessary for helping those who need more. Thus, being a Salutatorian, even those with greater awards is not just merely accepting a citation or recognition, instead this reminds one of his or her social responsibility to make a difference in the life of others.

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