The last time a valedictorian graduated with a 4.0 GPA was in 1994 when Kamala Dansinghani left Dartmouth with a perfect record.
And this year, Brian Stults ’02, who will be graduating in three years and has scored a perfect GPA so far and may very well end up with a 4.0, will not be allowed to speak at Commencement because College administrators have decided that the event is intended primarily for members of the graduating class of 2001.
Dean of the College James Larimore explained the reasons for the College’s decision to not allow Stults to speak because of the distinction the College draws between the valedictorian and the valedictory speaker at Commencement.
“The valedictorian (highest GPA among those graduating) is not necessarily the same person as the valedictory speaker,” Larimore said. A student will not be chosen as valedictory speaker until a later date.
At Dartmouth, the privilege of serving as the valedictory speaker has always been reserved for a member of the graduating class, according to Larimore.
“Typically, though not always, that person has also been the valedictorian,” he said.
He added that the College also confers an award, the Mina Warren Prize, to the graduating student who has achieved the highest GPA during four years of study at Dartmouth.
“While it has generally been the case that one person has been selected for [both] honors, in some years, as might be the case this year, these awards are split between two or more individuals,” Larimore said.
Stults, however, was disappointed by the decision.
According to Stults, the Dean’s Office notified him earlier this term that unless his GPA drops, he would be the Valedictorian for the graduating class.
At the same time, he was also informed that he would not be asked to speak at commencement.
Stults said that he was “surprised” by this decision, and thus set up a meeting with Larimore and President James Wright, the two people who officially decide who gives the valedictory speech at Commencement.
Larimore sent him a letter a week later affirming the previous decision.
Stults said, however, that he sincerely hoped that “Larimore’s decision is not final.”
“Many people that I’ve talked to about this are surprised,” he said. “I would have hoped that the College would want to showcase a student who was able to graduate as the valedictorian in just three years.”
Stults noted that Princeton University allowed a valedictorian to speak in 1999 who completed Princeton’s requirements for a bachelor’s degree in only three years.
Stults added that the College rejected his proposal to allow the highest ranking ’01 to speak along with him.
“They elected not to choose this option because it would be ‘complex’,” Stults said, “but the College had two valedictorians and two valedictory speakers in 1997.”
In 1997, graduating seniors Daniel Fehlauer and J. Brooks Weaver both gave valedictory addresses at Commencement exercises after they both graduated with a 3.99 GPA with a mere difference of .00026455 between the two.
Although members of the Class of 2001 who spoke with The Dartmouth were divided as to whether Stults should be permitted to speak at graduation, a slight majority favored Stults’ case.
“He should speak,” said Amar Dhand ’01. “Dartmouth’s decisions should be based on merit, and if he managed to graduate with such a high average in three years rather than four, he’s even more deserving of this honor than any ’01.”
Greg Fournier ’01, however, thought that, since Commencement is primarily an event for members of the graduating class, the highest ranking ’01 should give the valedictory address.
While Dominic Stanculescu ’01 did not personally object to allowing Stults to speak, he did think other ’01s might. “There is a really strong sense of class spirit at Dartmouth,” he said.
Several members of the 2001 graduating class, including Fournier, thought that a good compromise might be to allow Stults to return to Hanover in 2002 to give the valedictory address for his own class.
Larimore said that there is a possibility Stults would be allowed to speak at Commencement in 2002, but that it was “far too early to speculate about such matters.”
Stults emphasized that he hoped that Dartmouth administrators would not misconstrue his decision to speak with The Dartmouth as an attempt “to attack them through media outlets.”