As graduation approaches for high school seniors, one local campus is planning a ceremony slightly different from the rest.
Vintage High School will feature four student speakers — all of whom are student leaders, but none of whom are among the top four graduates in terms of grade point average (GPA).
Beginning last year, Vintage changed the format of its graduation ceremony so that student speakers more broadly represent the school’s diverse student body, according to Principal Craig Lewis. Vintage’s top academic students receive personal invitations to apply, but there is no guarantee they will be chosen, he said.
While this year’s speakers all boast high GPAs, they are not among the top four, whose GPAs ranged from 4.73 to 4.88. This makes Vintage the only Napa-area high school whose senior speakers will not include at least one of the academic top four.
Vintage High senior Nazlie Taheri said she feels “privileged” to be speaking in front of her class. Taheri, who is graduating with a 4.6 GPA, said the theme of her speech will be about working hard toward one’s goals.
“No matter where you come from, hard work is the key to success,” Taheri said.
Senior Ross Walker also was selected to speak at this year’s ceremony. Walker is graduating with a 4.19 GPA, and was a member of the high school’s leadership club as well as the water polo team.
Walker said he believes the school did a good job in selecting a diverse group of student speakers, because each represents a different part of the student body.
“They really captured everyone,” he said. “Each one of the speakers will be reaching someone who they’ve had a shared experience with.”
After the high school sends out invitations to its top academic students, the application process is opened to Vintage’s entire senior class. The application consists of short-answer questions to get a sense of what each student’s message would be, Lewis said.
The short-answer responses are given a blind read, and the top candidates are interviewed by a panel of administrators, counselors and teachers. From there, four students are chosen as graduation speakers.
Although the school’s top academic graduates won’t be giving speeches this year, they will be “prominently” featured in the hard-copy program everyone receives at the ceremony, Lewis said.
“They’re not forgotten or dismissed,” he said.
Lewis said he thought of changing the system for selecting graduation speakers because a similar process was used at a school where he previously worked.
He said he supports the new system because it better represents the diversity of the student body.
“It’s not that we discourage high GPAs or academic achievement, but that’s just one feature of the high school experience,” Lewis said.
The system at Napa High School is similar to Vintage in that it does not guarantee the top academic students will speak at graduation. Napa High, however, does not open the application process to the entire senior class.
Instead, the top 20 students in terms of GPA are automatically eligible to be interviewed by a valedictorian/salutatorian selection panel. Teachers also nominate students, and a total of 30 students are typically eligible to apply. The panel then conducts interviews and selects three students to speak at graduation.
At New Technology High School, the graduation speakers include the top academic graduates and two additional student speakers who are chosen by the senior class.
Napa’s private Catholic high school, Justin-Siena, asks the 10 senior students with the highest grade point averages to submit written remarks to its Valedictorian/Salutatorian Selection Committee, which chooses two student speakers from that group.
Benedicto Llave is one of this year’s speakers at Vintage. Llave is graduating with a 4.42 GPA and was involved in a wide variety of high school sports and activities, including tennis, orchestra, Key Club and the Honor Society.
Llave said he is “thankful” for the way Vintage chooses its student speakers.
“The fact that some schools only allow the valedictorian and salutatorian to speak, to me, is not representative of the graduating class at large,” Llave said. “In reality, we are not all perfect in academics.”
He said he prefers Vintage’s method because it allows for a larger array of perspectives to be represented at graduation.
The senior class is composed of “people with various journeys to get where we are today, and these stories ought to be represented by our speakers,” Llave said. “This system allows for that.”