It's the end of an era for valedictorians and salutatorians, at least in Wayne County Public Schools.
The latest round of commencement ceremonies marked the last official designation since the district made the shift to a new class ranking system.
The move actually took effect in 2015, when the state Board of Education mandated that high schools switch from the traditional seven-point grading scale to a 10-point scale often used by colleges and universities.
"There were three changes that the state Board of Education made that impacted our ability to differentiate between kids along those grading scales," said Dr. David Lewis, WCPS superintendent for accountability,information and technology. He explained that in addition to unifying the state by adopting the 10-point scale starting with the 2015-2016 school year, the state also changed the way quality points are awarded.
With students allowed to take classes at different levels -- from standard courses to upper level -- different quality points were attached to each.
But the element which likely led to the elimination of valedictorian and salutatorian status was what is called the augmented grade scale, Lewis said.
He likened it to what colleges do with plusses and minuses. For example, an A-minus is not worth as much as an A, which is not worth as much as an A-plus.
For a long time, districts had the option to use the augmented grade scale, Wayne County among them.
But then the state announced that beginning with the 2015-2016 school year, it would no longer use augmented scales.
"Because of that what you had was a system where kids were going to find themselves bunched up at the top," Lewis said. "We just weren't going to be able to differentiate meaningfully anymore between children. That's really what led to (the change)."
The competitive climb to the top of the class was nothing new, for public or private schools.
Over the years, students have won, or lost out, by a fraction of a minuscule decimal point from being No. 1 or even two or three in their graduating class.
Rather than split hairs, sometimes it was simply too difficult to determine which might be the clear-cut winner, resulting in several occasions where there were co-valedictorians or co-salutatorians. In some cases, the rivalries had been going on for years, and still others played out in competition between blood relatives.
This was especially true in private schools.
In 2015, Faith Christian Academy had two salutatorians, cousins, sharing the role.
That same year, Wayne Country Day School had three salutatorians, twin sisters and a third female student, separated by 1/600th of a point for the honor.
While not as common in the public schools, that proved true this year when Charles B. Aycock High School had two salutatorians.
In response to the state's mandate -- which translated to letting each district decide how to proceed -- WCPS began planning ahead, calling around to other districts from the mountains to the coast.
They discovered a variety of outcomes, said Tamara Ishee, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
"Different districts were in some form of flux, the ones that we spoke to, changing to some other method and most of them mentioned Latin Honors because people were used to that from the universities," she said. "So we determined a scale for what would qualify for cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude."
Qualifying students would earn a designation based on a weighted grade point average -- for cum laude, a range of 3.75 to 3.99 (on a 4.09 scale), magna cum laude from 4.0 to 4.249 and summa cum laude, a GPA of 4.25.
That just left the implementation, officials said, which included the announcement to students and parents and subsequent reminders over the past year.
"They decided that the incoming freshmen of 2015-2016 would be the first group to operate like this for their entire four-year career. So what that meant was that this year's graduating class, the Class of 2018, was the last class that ever operated differently for any period of time," Lewis said. "This was the last group where that old way of doing things and calculating GPAs would still impact them.
"I think what we all saw coming was this was the last group where we would be able to differentiate between No. 1 and No. 2, No. 2 and No. 3. Even at Aycock this year we had co-salutatorians. So I think we got our prediction right. When they adopted these policies, our first thought was, we're getting ready to lose val and sal, and as it turns out, that's how it played out."
One question remained -- how will graduation speakers now be selected?
Fortunately, there were already two high schools in the district operating under the Latin Honors system. Wayne Early Middle/College High School and Wayne School of Engineering have never selected valedictorians and salutatorians.
"They have multiple graduation speakers," Ishee explained. "When we discussed this with (other) principals, we put it to them to determine how they're going to select speakers and recognize honors for the individual students."
Student transcripts are also affected, she said, but even that issue can be easily remedied.
Ishee said the designation of their place in the class will still be included on the transcript, which in turn goes onto the college application.
"It doesn't matter if there's seven kids bunched up there with them, for No. 1," she said. "So they haven't lost the distinction to be able to say to the college, I'm first in the class.
"It's just at the actual graduation ceremony, no one will be noted that way in the program."
While this new approach is not yet universal across the state, officials said the trend appears to be moving that way.
At the same time, hopefully it reduces some of the stress on students as well as teachers.
"The school board was asked to explore some tie-breakers, what might some tie-breakers look like," Lewis said. "And in the end I think what everybody realized was that if you have to go so far to break a tie between two kids, are you really getting ready to tell one of them that he or she is not as good as the other one, not as smart as the other one, not as accomplished as the other one, or didn't work as hard to achieve as much? I think what everybody realized was you get to a point, how far are you willing to go?
"I think we've settled in on what will be a very good plan. The standard for receiving the highest honor we will award is still incredibly high."
Despite the local decision to cease having val and sal distinctions, private schools are staying with the recognition.
Faith Christian and Wayne Christian both said at this point, they plan to keep things status quo.
WCDS will, too, said headmaster Todd Anderson.
"I understand the change going to the Latin Honors system," he told the News-Argus. "For example, our school will not rank its students since our average SAT score perennially is above 1200, or the 80th percentile of national college-bound students.
"How do you distinguish a top student out of a population pool like that? For now, we will keep our designations of valedictorian and salutatorian, but I have no problem awarding multiple students with these honors."