Wednesday, January 18, 2012
At Linton Hall Military School, medals and other awards were sometimes given or denied arbitrarily. This is an account of three cadets and the awards they did, and did not, deserve.
A few days before graduation, Sister Mary David O.S.B., the school principal, went into the eighth grade classroom and announced that this was the time of the year when she would normally announce the names of the three eighth graders with the highest grade point average. The highest ranked, the Valedictorian, would be awarded a gold-colored medal and speak at graduation; the second, called the Salutatorian, would also speak at graduation and be awarded a silver colored medal. The third would be awarded a bronze colored medal.
That year, she said, since no one in the graduating class had earned a grade point average of at least 90%, there would be no academic awards given.
At least one cadet asked her to at least tell the class the names of these cadets, and she actually did so. She announced the names of the first two. The first one had a grade average of slightly above 88%, the second slightly below 88%, and the third, she said, was so far below the first two that she would not even give his name. Although the names of the cadets are known to me, I will refer to them as "First" and "Second."
She also implied that it was because of laziness, or stupidity, or both, that no one had achieved an average above 90%. Although some cadets may have been at times lazy, or not bright in some subjects (and I would not deny that I had been lazy at times or found some subjects difficult) I think it was extremely presumptuous of her to blame the low grades entirely on the students. When the average is low for the entire class, I would be more inclined to see the cause as being either teachers who were particularly tough that particular year (especially when grading assignments such as essays, for which there is no objective standard) or some teachers being less than effective in teaching material.
In any case, the award was for being first, second and third. Just as the runners in a race are ranked against each other and not against those in preceding years, it makes no more sense to deny an award to those scoring less than 90% than it would make sense to have half a dozen valedictorians if in a particular year there were six graduating seniors with average grades above 90%, or wherever the cutoff may be.
Sister Mary David went on to say that since the two with the highest grade average were not worthy of speaking at graduation, that she would pick someone else to give the speech.
Now wait a second. We couldn't have been lazy or stupid, because we realized that it made no sense to deny "First" and "Second" the honor of speaking, and instead appoint "Cadet X" who, at best, had a grade point average far below that of the first two, or, at worst, was at the botton of the class.
Shortly after, several eighth graders discussed this incident. The three cadets involved, "First," "Second," and "Cadet X," were all present. "Cadet X" told the first two that he would decline to speak at graduation, since he did not deserve the honor. I will not keep you in suspense; he did not do the right thing, and did speak at graduation. I do not want to be too harsh on him, since he was only 13 or 14 years old at the time, but he clearly knew that he was taking something he did not deserve, but failed to do the right thing. I have far harsher things to say about Sister Mary David, an adult in her forties, who chose to have the graduating class and their parents addressed by someone who, by accepting this opportunity, was someone who took something which he did not deserve, and was far from a positive role model.
I think that Sister Mary David made a big mistake by revealing the names of the two cadets who had placed highest. Not only did she say this to the entire eighth grade class, but the rumor mill being what it was in such a small school, it did not take long for most of the seventh graders, the faculty, and most of the other cadets to know what had happened.
But there's more to the story. Although I have not identified the three cadets by name, their names are known to me, as are their birthplaces. "Cadet X" had an Anglo-Saxon last name, and was presumably born in the U.S.. Both "First" and "Second" had last names that were definitely not Anglo-Saxon, they had both been born in Latin America, and their native language was Spanish. Although I cannot know what went on in the principal's mind, or what her motivation was, those are the facts about the three cadets' names and birthplaces. You can draw your own conclusions.
It would also be safe to assume that "First" and "Second" wrote home about this incident. Since outgoing mail was censored, and Sister Mary David said she knew Spanish, anyone want to bet that those letters went out?
Sometime after this incident, "First" took some cardboard and pencils and made his own medal, a medal with the number one, and the words "Gypped Out" underneath. He showed it to other cadets, and I would not be surprised if Sister Mary David had found out, but I can't recall him being punished for it.
At graduation, after all the other medals had been given, "First" and "Second" did receive their medals, but they were announced as "academic awards" or some other low-key phrase. But "Cadet X" gave the speech that the other two cadets rightfully should have given.
As usual, comments are welcome, but please do not mention the names of these cadets.
Copyright 2012 by "Linton Hall Cadet."
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This blog is not affiliated with Linton Hall Military School and all opinions are those of the author.