A Golden Friend with the Perfect GPA by
(21 Stories)

Prompted By Graduation

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Written in response to No Valediction

I graduated from high school in 1977. The world already looked so different than it did for you, Betsy – we were closer to the 80s than the 60s by then – and in California we could be pretty sure it wouldn’t rain on graduation day.

I remember the fact that I wasn't chosen to give a speech at my own graduation through the lens of my mother's indignation.

I recall that our school’s system for choosing who got to speak at graduation was also based on grades. Kids with the best GPAs gave the speeches. Now they do it differently – anyone can write and submit a speech and winners are chosen on the basis of merit – content, humor, reflection on the high school years, good grammar. But kids with the best GPAs still call the roll during the (endless) procession of students crossing the stage to shake hands and get their diplomas.

I remember the fact that I wasn’t chosen to give a speech at my own graduation through the lens of my mother’s indignation. In spite of my perfect academic record (a physics prize, California Regents Scholarship, National Honor Society) I had received a “B” in one of my required P.E. classes as a freshman or sophomore. That meant my GPA wasn’t perfect. One of my best friends, let’s call her “Molly” of the golden hair, the perfect soprano voice, the soulful eyes – boyfriend thief that she was, I still loved her – “Molly” had dropped one of her science classes before getting a poor grade which meant her GPA was perfect. Or at least that’s the story (rumor?) that infuriated my mother. Mom railed against the unfairness of this system: I was clearly the more academically proficient student, so of course, I should be one of the four valedictorians. (The school chose two girls and two boys, I have no idea how they did it, as there were likely more kids with 4.0 GPAs in those days, there certainly are now.) I don’t remember much else about graduation except that “Molly” was lovely, soft-spoken but commanding, and nobody could take their eyes off her. It was sunny, we wore our white robes, the boys wore their purple robes, it was all over.

We didn’t have a school-sponsored all-night party (at least not that I went to) but I’m pretty sure plenty of people got drunk. I wasn’t one of them, and that’s another story!

By the time I graduated from college, I was married and living far away from home. I’d finished my coursework and honors projects and officially graduated at the end of fall quarter my senior year. I wasn’t even planning on walking the following June, until the letters started coming from the university and my college about the honors and awards I’d won (such old news, but we remember our young pride so stubbornly). Who can pass up a chance to shake the hand of the founder of the college? My mother had a 2-year old to take care of at home to take, and my parents never planned to come to the graduation ceremony (remember, neither had I). In the end, it didn’t matter. I wasn’t asked to give a speech (thank God!) and I still shook Roger Revelle’s hand happily in the very hot San Diego sun. And to celebrate my induction into Phi Beta Kappa, my mother sent me the biggest bouquet of flowers I had ever seen. That is something I will never forget.

I did eventually give a valedictorian speech of sorts when I graduated from Nursing School. But that is another post!


Profile photo of Jennifer Swanton Brown Jennifer Swanton Brown
Poet. Nurse. Teacher. Mom. Daughter. Sister. Knitter. Swimmer. Contemplative in training. Follow "A Twirly Life" (twirlyword.wordpress.com).

Tags: 1977, valedictorian, high school
Characterizations: funny, right on!


  1. Susan says:

    Jennifer, sounds like the ceremonies of graduation could never properly reflect the level of your achievement at either high school or college. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  2. Patricia says:

    Frankly, I’m with your Mother on this one. There are rules, and there’s what’s right. PE grades never factored into our GPA, and dropping a course you were not going to ace is gaming the system. You was robbed, girl!

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Jen, I just came upon this story. Sorry I didn’t see it years ago. I’m with Patti here. Can’t believe the B in PE kept you from giving the speech. You was robbed! But that bouquet sounds awesome!

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