Olivia Daniels ’19, Daisy Jones ’19, Severine Stier ’19, and Emma Tayloe ’19

Much of what comprised Davidson’s 2018 graduation ceremony came as no surprise: the sea of middle-aged bodies shifting in flimsy, black folding chairs, the impending destruction of the meticulously maintained lawn, and President Carol Quillen’s overzealous call for bipartisanship in the post-grad world. 

As Dean Wendy Raymond began reading aloud the names of the graduates, we were taken aback by what we expected to be a trivial aspect of the day–the order in which graduates crossed the stage. The students with the highest GPAs (summa cum laude) were recognized first. The graduation order then proceeded as follows: those with GPAs below a 3.5, then those with a GPA between a 3.5 and 3.75 (cum laude), and finally those with above a 3.75 (magna cum laude). 

This year, graduates will sit and receive their diplomas in alphabetical order, based on their last name and divided by degree. 

According to Dean Byron McCrae, Latin honors will likely be listed in the bulletin next to each person’s name and announced as each person walks across the stage, as in years past. By restructuring the ceremony so that students are no longer grouped according to GPA, Davidson is responding to the critique of GPA as a total summary of an academic career. 

Although we recognize the progress made by alphabetizing the order in which graduates cross the stage, we hope that future ceremonies will eliminate the mention of GPA-based honors. 

From our first official interaction with Davidson—the college application process—our GPAs have been intentionally reviewed as part of a larger picture in the holistic admission process. 

Like many of its peer institutions, Davidson evaluates applicants on more than high school grades. Extracurricular activities, employment, family commitments, educational background, and peer recommendations all contribute to a candidate’s application. Tour guides even emphasize that unlike many institutions, Davidson students uniquely value academic peer support, collaboration, and honor. 

So, if GPA is not the focus of our arrival at Davidson, why should it define our departure? 

GPAs do not reflect the hours that students may spend working off-campus to pay for their tuition, participating in volunteer service initiatives, helping friends in challenging circumstances, or working through mental health issues. When grades are the sole defining element of a student’s position at graduation, such experiences of growth, development, and service become barriers to “success” instead of feats worth rewarding. 

Despite being widely framed as a meritocratic system, GPAs are informed by a variety of other factors: high school preparation, professors’ pedagogical approaches, students’ majors, socioeconomic status, etc. Like many scholars, we are interested in interrogating how GPAs are formulated and interpreted. It is imperative to emphasize the ways in which GPA reflects certain privileges, such as access to academic resources and support, as much as it reflects effort. 

Even though students and community members have historically been prioritized during Davidson’s graduation ceremonies, the execution of this goal is always evolving. 

For example, in an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal in May of 2017, the year of Davidson’s 180th commencement, Quillen expressed intentionality in the construction of Davidson’s graduation ceremony. Departing from the common model of a guest commencement speech, she stated that by not inviting an unaffiliated speaker, Davidson redirects the focus of graduation to the students. Through this decision, Quillen maintained a commitment to placing the college community at the forefront of the ceremony.

While we look forward to acknowledging our classmates’ accomplishments on May 19th, we hope that successes outside of numerical measures are prominent reasons for celebration amongst our peers and loved ones. 

As one of many factors in a student’s academic career, Latin honors certainly have value. As labels, however, we think they are best expressed through resumes or in private conversations with families or employers. 

If you want to make them public, take your Latin honors to LinkedIn. 

Olivia Daniels ’19 is a History major from Phillipsburg, NJ. She can be reached at oldaniels@davidson.edu. Daisy Jones ‘19 is a Gender and Sexuality studies major from Glen Ellyn, IL. She can be reached at dljones@davidson.edu. Severine Stier ’19 is an English major from Princeton, NJ. She can be reached at sestier@davidson.edu. Emma Tayloe ’19 is a Chemistry major from Arlington, VA. She can be reached at emtayloe@davidson.edu. All four contributors can be located at B301.