Unwrapping the distinguished grad program

School plans on recognizing a different type of success


Chelsea Harden

Principal Sandi Squire talks about the upcoming distinguished grad program.

Anna Eggers, co-editor in chief

Ben Davis has always been a school that will stop at nothing to ensure that our students are being given everything that they need to succeed.

Within the past six or seven years, our administrator’s views of what success is has to shifted from focusing solely on pure academic achievement to more about student mental health and freedom to find and explore their future passions. Principal Sandra Squire and Assistant Principal Mike Lile are the leaders pushing for the newest accommodation for students who choose to dive into what they love rather than stack AP classes — the distinguished graduate honor. 

“As a school, we wanted to change how we honor students,” Squire said.

What Squire first wants to establish with the student body is that the distinguished graduate honor is only the most recent step the leaders of the school have taken towards preparing students for their future interests. Impact, Career and Cluster surveys, and Naviance are a few of the biggest changes students already see implemented.

Each of these tools strives to make the students of Ben Davis understand their strengths, learn habits that will help them when they enlist, enroll, or employ, and encourage them to find the careers and topics that actually interest them.

The distinguished graduate honor aims to do the same. 

“Our job as educators is to help students find their passions,” Squire said. 

To be considered a distinguished graduate, there are three areas of achievement students are expected to excel at. The first component which has the biggest impact on graduate eligibility is the weighted GPA. Administrators still recognize the importance of maintaining high grades. If focusing on GPA alone, many current high ranking students would become distinguished graduates without having to complete anything in the other two areas of achievement. 

However, if a student has a 3.9 weighted GPA they’re also able to become a distinguished graduate because of the other areas — extra- and co-curricular activities.

“We want to be able to recognize those students who excel in multiple areas,” Lile said.

Participating and taking leadership roles within clubs or sports at school will be a part of the reason why students will be given the honor. The emphasis is put on school, though, because any activities a student participates in solely outside of school will not be included due to the difficulties of getting proof of student involvement.

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We are still working on what the program will look like for distinguished grads.

— Mike Lile

Although activities a student participates in is a part of the consideration, activities are capped in comparison to the GPA to ensure that every student who is accepted will have a baseline proof of academic achievement. 

Upon implementation of this honor, the administration hopes that the academic culture of our school will change. As they usher in this new program, the top 30 will no longer be recognized as such — although students will still have the ability to see their ranking in Skyward and valedictorian and salutatorian will be recognized when giving speeches at graduation. Rather, any student who is capable of meeting the requirements to be considered a distinguished graduate will be given the honor. No limits are put on the number of students considered this type of graduate.

“We are still working on what the program will look like for distinguished grads,” Lile said. “We have to work out the kinks of what this program will be to honor them. It will likely be different then our current Top 30 program and we welcome suggestions from anybody on what that should look like.” 

The hope Squire and Lile have is that by eliminating a system that is restrictive and only considers academics, students will feel open to truly delving into what makes them tick through outside activities instead of having to focus on the race to the highest GPA. The entire point of the system is to show that the school will no longer recognize academics as the only way a student can show they’re successful — rather, everything we contribute to at school is important.

The system saw its first class last year with the class of 2019. Students were recognized as distinguished graduates at the Evening of Excellence ceremony, with the purpose of finding how many students would be considered distinguished graduates.

After a successful test run, the administration was planning on jumping in and officially getting rid of top 30 with the class of 2020, but some logistical issues with including a recognition banquet have prevented it for the time being, so this class will again be recognizing both rank and graduate status with the usual Top 30 banquet in April..

The class of 2021 will be the first class to be run completely on the distinguished graduate honor. Although it will be more work and time to create a similar evening to the Top 30 banquet for the distinguished graduates who could possibly make up a group that’s three times larger, the school is determined to make it work. 

Moving forward with the distinguished graduate process, Squire and Lile are open to recommendations for the banquet and will listen to every student who voices concerns to them. Now that the system has been defined in strict enough terms, Squire intends to over-publicize the information.

No student in our township will be unaware of the changes being made, and will hopefully all begin striving towards achieving this new honor. Only time will tell if the school culture will truly be able to change, but this improvement to the way the school recognizes students as successful sends a positive message that all students will feel.