The May 26 graduation ceremony at Riverside-Brookfield High School was the last one, for the foreseeable future at least, in which the 10 graduating seniors with the highest grade-point averages were given medals and recognized.
In 2020, the District 208 school board voted 6 to 1 to eliminate class rank effective with the Class of 2023.
Next year RBHS will shift to a broader, more inclusive system for recognizing academic excellence at graduation. Students who finish high school with grade-point averages of 3.0 to 3.49 will be recognized as graduating cum laude (with honors). Students with GPAs of 3.5 to 3.9 will graduate magna cum laude (with high honors), and students who finish high school with GPAs of 4.0 and above will graduate summa cum laude (with highest honors).
This will likely mean that well over half the graduating class will graduate with some kind of honors.
The top 10 students in the Class of 2023 seem to have mixed feelings about getting rid of class rank at RBHS.
“I think, obviously, anyone in the top 10 likes the recognition, I think that’s part of the reason why we worked really hard all four years, but I do understand that there’s maybe a level of toxicity behind it and that’s probably why they’re getting rid of it,” said Paulina Carmona, who finished seventh in the class and next fall will be the first RBHS graduate to attend Yale University since 2008.
Bryce Pacourek, who finished fifth in the class, had a similar view, although she said she understood the reasons behind abandoning the practice.
“I think it’s kind of a nice way for all of us to be recognized for our academic achievements and all the hard work we’ve put in throughout these four years at RB, but I also totally understand why they’re getting rid of it, because I feel like it put a lot of pressure on us,” Pacourek said.
Class rank at RBHS is determined by a weighted grade-point average in which grades in honors and Advanced Placement classes are weighted more heavily than grades in regular classes.
Every student in the top 10, which was really a top a 11 this year because of a tie for 10th, received straight A’s throughout their four years at RBHS, as did some students not in the top 10. Class rank ultimately came down to how many honors or Advanced Placement classes a student took.
Five members of the top 10 this year were dancers. That’s not necessarily a random coincidence because the only honors wellness class is Honors Repertory Dance, a class that can be taken multiple times. An A in Honors Repertory dance is worth more than an A in regular gym class that non-dancers would take.
“You can definitely plan out your schedule to get slight advantages,” Pacourek said.
Some highly ranked students take some classes, mostly gym, pass/fail because they realized that an A in a regular level class would only hurt their GPA.
“It is pretty cutthroat; it’s about who can kind of game the system,” said Sam Royer, who finished sixth in the class and who took PE pass/fail during his junior and senior years.
Royer said he doesn’t mind class rank is being eliminated at RBHS, saying it’s not a good thing or a bad thing.
“It’s nice to be recognized for that hard work but if, at the end of the day, I would not have that title, I wouldn’t lose any sleep at night,” Royer said. “I don’t think that in the long run it’s going to hurt anybody that there’s no more top 10 students, just because it can be so cutthroat and the students who work just as hard as any other students might not be in the top 10.”
Royer, who will study electrical engineering at the University of Illinois, was one of only two boys to make the top 10 at RBHS this year.
“I think we definitely have a lot of talented boys at RB too, but I think maybe girls are just a little more focused and driven during school while boys can maybe get a little more distracted,” said Pacourek, who received a scholarship to run cross country and track at the University of St. Thomas, which is located in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Natalia Contreras finished No. 1 in the class, although RBHS does not officially recognize a valedictorian.
The rest of the top 10, in order of class rank were Sophie Swicionis, Chole Alexander, Joshua Nelson, Pacourek, Royer, Carmona, Olivia Glawe, Eli Christiansen, and Lara Huns and Grace Pankros, who tied for 10th.