story by Lillian Beach
Valedictorian. It’s a title that, for the students at Saint Ignatius High School, not only means academic excellence, but also a commitment to their Alma Mater and a strong work ethic.
To choose the valedictorian, the school invites the top five percent of the graduating class to apply and fill out a questionnaire. Their answers are reviewed by a committee of faculty members, and the finalists are selected. Each one then prepares and presents a shortened version of a valedictorian speech to the committee.
The process, says Director of College Counseling Linda Gabor, is one that doesn’t simply just involve academics because “we already know [the candidates] academically qualify.” There is also a lot of time spent looking at “if they are a good writer, whether or not they’ve done a lot of service to others here at the school,” and “whether they get the religious component” of the school.
This year’s valedictorian, Dillion Gallagher ’19, seems to get it. Gabor says that Gallagher reminds her of “a John F. Kennedy-type person. He’s got some charisma; he commands the room.” Gallagher is president of the student body and has spoken at numerous events, including student rallies and faculty committee meetings. He will attend Princeton University in the fall.
“To be valedictorian is a way of representing compassion and hard work,” says Principal Dan Bradesca ’88. “Students at Ignatius need to understand that studies are just as important as development as a young man and his faith life and service to others. The valedictorian is someone who understands how to blend those worlds together to be the best young man that he can be.”
This “blend” includes academics, service, and faith. Students at Saint Ignatius striving to be valedictorian must exemplify a mastery of this blend. The selected students are definitely qualified. However, Gabor says that the hardest part for the students is often giving the sample speech for the committee.
“[The candidates] have to present to the committee...I always think that’s a difficult thing for young men to give a speech in front of people they know.”
Having spoken at various events, including ones in front of faculty, Gallagher was certainly prepared for the task. “First and foremost,” Gabor says, “[Dillion] is very confident; he’s a great speaker. He’s got an ‘it factor.’” This “it factor” helped him to gain the title of valedictorian through the fairly new process.
Unlike other schools, being valedictorian is not solely about GPA. Bradesca says that “kids are defined by the entirety of themselves as a person. It shouldn’t matter as much about GPA, but instead what [the student] has done with all the opportunities he’s had for four years.” All the extra curricular activities, the sports, the academics and the service opportunities play a factor in determining whether or not the student will receive the title of valedictorian of his class.
Gabor says of the candidates that “all [of them] are so good. It’s been hard to choose and an honor to see some of the best and brightest of students. What always comes through is how much they love the school and how much they want to give that message to their classmates. To have students feel that way has been a blessing to see and hear.”