Sunday, April 17, 2011

Student Robbed of Valedictorian Honor

Here we are, it's April, and seniors across America are gearing up to graduate high school.  For some seniors out there, being valedictorian is a great honor, and achieving it is no small feat.  For ABC News' Person of the Week, Fannetta Nelson Gordon, it was going to highlight her family's success.  Gordon, a black senior at a Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh in 1936, was supposed to be the valedictorian of her class.  She was following in her sister's footsteps, who had graduated as the school's first black valedictorian two years earlier.  However, school leaders, specifically the principal, did not want two black valedictorians so close together.  The principal ordered Fanetta's teachers to cut her grades, and she fell from first in the class to fourth.  One of her music teachers changed her grade from an A to a B.  Fannetta was an extremely talented musician, according to friends and family.

Despite losing the honor of being valedictorian, Fannetta went on to earn two master's degrees and taught high school German.  According to her older sister, Sophia, Fannetta never forgot about that changed grade.  "She was heartbroken. She never got over it," says Sophia.

Fannetta died three years ago, and her family became even more determined to set the record straight.  Now, 75 years later, the school has given Fannetta the honor she deserved.  Sophia accepted the honor in place of Fannetta. There will be two valedictorians at Westinghouse High this year.  One of them is named Fannetta.

However sad this story may be, it's great to see that she's getting the honor she deserved.  It's a shame that it took them three years after her death to finally give her the recognition she earned.  It's a shame that it took them 75 years.  It's a shame that she didn't get the honor when she earned it, when it would have made the most difference to her.

  This is a bittersweet story, but it has a happy ending, so all is well.

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