Thirty-five years ago, I graduated from Oswego High School with a weighted GPA above 100, a course load full of advanced classes and a resume that included multiple academic distinctions. With this honor came accolades from friends and fellow students, special ribbons and medals at graduation, and the honor of being named “Most Likely to Succeed” by the senior class. But, unfortunately, what it should have also come with was a medal for “Most Risk-Averse Student.”

As an eighth grader, I was deeply interested in watching my sister pick out her high school classes. along with the normal humanities, science, advanced math, and language, she also chose to take an art class and typing. Not that she was a great artist, but she decided on art because she loved to draw. She chose typing because she planned to join the Buc Bulletin staff and wanted to learn how to type efficiently. During the year, she worked diligently on her artwork and learned to be a decent typist. She also did fine in the classes and received a 90 in both classes. What she didn’t realize is that since these were not considered honors classes, they inadvertently impacted her weighted GPA and pushed her downwards in class rank.

When it was my turn to enter high school, I played it safe. I chose my classes based on “so-called” academic difficulty, avoided as many classes as I could that carried a weight of 1.0, and shied away from any classes that might not show me in the “best light.” In other words, even though I worked extremely hard, I also gamed the system. In pursuit of this top honor, I chose not to take a photography class, avoided wood and metal shop, didn’t take economics, and most regrettably avoided taking typing. So, where did my fellow students end up that took these classes? Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Fortune 1000 Medical Device CEO, Entrepreneur and Wine Enthusiast, Founder and CEO of a top Financial Planning Firm, Hedge Fund Analyst, and countless teachers, engineers, scientists, and small business owners. They all did just fine.

A recent edition of The Palladium-Times included a cover story on G. Ray Bodley High School eliminating the Valedictorian and Salutatorian distinctions starting this year. I understand the disappointment of the top two students, the amount of work that they put in to achieve this honor, and the recognition that comes with the title. But I also know that in the long run, these titles will not define them as individuals, it will not guarantee success in either college or life afterward, and after some time, will become an afterthought.

To both of these incredible young women: Take joy in honor of graduating Summa Cum Laude, the exciting journey that you are both about to embark on and knowing that it is OK to take risks and pursue avenues that might be just a little bit off of the beaten path. You will both be fine.

Neelesh Shah was top of the OHS Class of 1986. Fifteen years after leaving Oswego, he finally took a risk walking away from a career as a successful management consultant to start a technology company focused on improving quality in healthcare. The software is used in all 150 Veterans Hospitals, including the VA Clinic located in Oswego. He still types with two fingers.

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