Level the Playing Field

Has Cum Laude’s prestige already run its course, or would an equitable revision make it more purposeful and worthwhile?

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As the school year comes to a close, many seniors are trying to figure out if they have achieved the honor of receiving cum laude. Cum laude is a Latin term that means, “with honor.” Usually, it refers to college students who graduate with high academic achievements; however, a variation was established in our district three years  ago. The requirements to graduate with Cum Laude in Community High School District 117 include having 26 credits, zero suspensions, 40 volunteer hours, 95 percent attendance, taking three capstone courses and participating in four extracurricular activities.

However, along with figuring out if they have achieved Cum Laude, many upperclassmen are also beginning to wonder if Cum Laude is really worth it. One turn off is that the honor cannot be put onto college applications.

Because of the attendance requirement, students cannot be distinguished with this honor until the school year is complete. But at this point, most seniors have already applied and been accepted into college without adding cum laude to their applications. Being distinguished with this honor does not help students get into college and because of this, Cum Laude is seeming less enticing to many students.

Our current system of Cum Laude was initially set up in order to get more students involved with the school and the community. In theory, this gives an opportunity for all students to achieve excellence and be recognized for their ability to be responsible, respectful and proud.

Unwittingly, this system might be having the opposite effect than that which was originally intended. Now we see that many of the students receiving Cum Laude are already in National Honor Society; most of these students are using the service hours they earned for NHS, or another honor society, towards Cum Laude, thus not having to put in extra effort for hours or volunteering. People in NHS are not allowed to have any suspensions, and for the most part they are involved in the community. For these students, Cum Laude is just another thing to tack onto the list of accomplishments of those that already excel academically.

Rather than students spending their time taking classes that pertain to their interests and enjoying the area they wish to pursue in the future, Cum Laude is adding pressure to take certain rigorous courses instead of building an academic resume that aligns to student interest or possible career paths.

Because of these drawbacks, it seems as though Cum Laude is ultimately not “worth it.” But even though Cum Laude is not applicable to college applications, it should still be something that students aim to achieve.

Some high schools have developed levels of Cum Laude similar to college, which would include cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude. These ranks allow more students to be recognized for their achievements, and it challenges those who have already met and surpassed the regular Cum Laude requirements currently in place.

If we, as a school, could establish these extra levels of the Cum Laude system, then we could tweak the requirements in order to attract students who normally would not think it’s worth it. We could also then provide an additional goal to strive towards for those who are looking to be distinguished at a higher level. In a sense, we look to level the playing field in an effort to achieve equity among the entire population and not simply continue to focus our time on those who are traditionally awarded for making a difference.

If our Cum Laude system was more equitable and not targeted towards a select group of students who already achieve academic honors, other students could get more involved in our school and community. With a Cum Laude system that consists of levels, all kids who strive to do a little extra would be honored. People may not view the current system of Cum Laude as being worth it, but a new program could help students who are not already celebrated receive that equal opportunity for celebration.