By Esther Eriksson von Allmen '19
Several weeks ago, the senior class gathered in Hearst Auditorium to discuss potential changes to Flag Day, the annual awards ceremony where NCS students (seniors primarily) are recognized for their excellence in various academic fields, as well as their contributions to the school community. The meeting was hosted by a special committee, consisting of several NCS faculty members, specifically created to address the concerns that certain students (both current and former) have regarding Flag Day, and to implement changes where they see fit. I’m writing this article to address a few of said concerns, and to express my opinion on the current approach being used to implement changes to Flag Day.
One of the main concerns seniors have regarding Flag Day is the exclusivity of the ceremony, given that only a selection of students receive awards. I was surprised to hear during the meeting that teachers will intentionally choose not to award a deserving student if that same student is already known to be receiving other Flag Day prizes. I don’t think I’m being particularly radical when I say that prizes should be awarded to the student(s) who deserve them. It boggles my mind to think that anyone would choose to make Flag Day less meritocratic for the sake of protecting students’ feelings. Is this not the same ceremony where we are celebrated for our development into mature, young adults? But my belief in a meritocratic Flag Day ceremony also entails that multiple students should be able to win the same departmental award, unlike last year’s Flag Day when each award had strictly one recipient. At least to me, it seems silly that there can only be one senior who was exceptional at Math or Latin or History, when we very well know that there are oftentimes multiple students who excel in the same academic field.
Another concern is the academic focus of Flag Day. At least several of my classmates believe that Flag Day should be more holistic and include more awards focused on character and less on academic subjects. While I’m not opposed to adding more character-based awards, I don’t support the removal of the pre-existing academic ones. In the several Flag Day ceremonies that I have attended, teachers give academic prizes to NCS students who have not only demonstrated talent in a certain academic field, but also intellectual curiosity and oftentimes a commitment to the particular subject that extends beyond the expectations of the class. Never have I witnessed a teacher present an academic award to a student simply because she had the highest grade in the class. Thus, even the academic prizes are not completely one-dimensional. That being said, Flag Day certainly has its fair share of prizes commending non-academic achievements. Out of the thirty-four awards last year, only twelve pertained to specific academic subjects. An almost equal amount of awards recognized excellence in the performing arts and music.
Now, the most controversial aspect of Flag Day seems to be the Flag award, given to the senior with the highest junior and senior year GPA. I’ve heard other members of the NCS community, including teachers, argue that certain NCS students develop an unhealthy obsession with the Flag, and that to combat this obsession, we should remove the award. For starters, since 9th grade (and for many, arguably before that) my classmates and I have lived and breathed in an academic environment where getting good grades is a top priority. We want to go to college, and colleges want us to have good grades, so, naturally, we want good grades. And caring about your grades is a good thing! So no, I don’t believe NCS students have an unhealthy obsession with the Flag. NCS students, like so many American high schoolers, have an obsession with maintaining a strong grade point average. But I don’t see the Flag Award, or the Cum Laude ceremony for that matter, as somehow fueling this obsession, but rather acknowledging the tremendous amount of work that is required to maintain a certain GPA. At a ceremony that aims to reflect the values of our school, there seems to be something rather disingenuous with failing to acknowledge excellent grades as a significant accomplishment, when in reality, it has always been the top-priority for so many of our students.
Above anything else, I believe that seniors have the right to determine what their Flag Day ceremony will look like. By this, I mean that any proposed changes to Flag Day should be voted on by the senior class directly. And while teachers and faculty can certainly facilitate this process, I don’t believe they have a right to decide what is right and wrong about a ceremony meant for us. According to a Discus article issued last week, the Flag Day committee has met with both alumnae and current seniors during the past couple weeks to discuss changes. Firstly, I was confused why alumnae were even included in the conversation about this year’s Flag Day. In my mind, the only people who should make decisions about the 2019 Flag Day should be the students who will ultimately be affected by the decisions made. And while I’m glad that the committee is reaching out to current seniors, it makes me uneasy to think that just a handful of students in my grade are supposed to somehow represent the communal concerns of the senior class. Ultimately, given how hard each senior has worked to get to this point, we all deserve an equal say in determining what one of our final days as NCS students will look like.