Thought you suffered through some tough competition in high school?
The case of Paul Siemens '98, of Chestnut Ridge, NY, might make you think again.
Siemens, 18, is suing his school district because of what he feels is the unfairness of a process that left him ranked second in his class, leaving a classmate with the highest academic rank--and the coveted honor of valedictorian.
Spring Valley High School, from which Siemens graduated last month, names as its valedictorian the student who had the highest grade point average over the first seven semesters of high school.
But there's a catch. At Spring Valley, the seventh semester--the first term of a student's senior year--is counted twice.
And Siemens says a low grade in physics, double-weighted as part of the system, toppled him from the head of his class and denied him the honor he rightly deserves.
Representatives from Siemens' school district, East Ramapo, say the policy is perfectly fair.
"It is applied to all students, and discriminates against no one," said the school district's attorney, Stephen Fromson. "It is a process of longstanding duration and is neither arbitrary nor capricious, as Mr. Siemens has charged."
Fromson also noted that the formula has been in place at Spring Valley High for 30 years.
But this fact did not seem to trouble Siemens' attorney, Barry Kantrowitz. The attorney, Barry Kantrowitz. The attorney compared his client's struggle against unfair entrenched policies to the injustices suffered by Black slaves and disenfranchised women.
"Sure it's gone on for years, but women couldn't vote for years, and Blacks were slaves for centuries," Kantrowitz said yesterday. "Longevity does not make it right."
Indeed, Siemens himself said he is acting primarily on principle.
"I think the most important thing, is that it's not about being number one or number two," Siemens said yesterday. "The fact is that they broke the law by not having an average. There has to be somebody to stand up for the student's rights, and I feel I'm the person to do that."
"What's important to me is not just helping myself, but helping the future of the school district," the future Harvard student added.
But Siemens said he isn't fighting for purely altruistic reasons.