Why do valedictorians rarely end wildly successful?

Students who graduate on top of their class are often expected to become future leaders, CEOs or influential in the society. But more often than not, this isn’t the case. Although valedictorians and salutatorians generally go on to be successful, only a few of their kind achieve big-time success.

Why do valedictorians rarely end wildly successful?

Karen Arnold, a Boston University researcher followed a number of academic achievers to determine what happened to them after graduating from high school.

Based on the results of the study, nearly all valedictorians and salutatorians earned a college degree with an average GPA of 3.6. Majority of them pursued a graduate degree and almost half of them had top-tier professional jobs. In short, most of them achieved the traditional markers of success.

In Eric Barker’s book “Barking Up the Wrong Tree”, he cited possible reasons as to why top students don’t often meet the society’s high expectation on them.

"But how many of these number one high-school performers go on to change the world, run the world, or impress the world? The answer seems to be clear: zero,” Barker wrote.

According to Barker, top students consistently do what they are told to do so and get rewarded for that. They get rewards for conforming with the system and doing what was already working moderately well. However, going along with the system doesn’t actually change the world. If you come to think of it, the world’s most influential leaders and thinkers often come up with unique solutions to problems.

Speaking to Business Insider, Barker said: “In school, rules are very clear. In life, rules are not so clear. So a certain amount of not playing by the rules is advantageous once you get out of a closed system like education.”

Barker’s second theory suggests that more often than not, academic achievers usually become generalists rather than someone who has developed passion or expertise. While being a generalist may help you excel in all subjects in school, you will need to excel in a particular domain in the working world.

"Valedictorians often go on to be the people who support the system -- they become a part of the system -- but they don't change the system or overthrow the system,” Barker said.

Of course, being the high-school valedictorian doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t achieve the kind of success we could only dream of. You can go on changing the world if you take risks and not just play by the rules.

-- Mini, The Summit Express

1 Comment

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  1. Just Built AnotherJuly 26, 2023 at 11:53 PM

    As a class C student it's really difficult to face the game of life but willing to take risk and fail, and strive again.

    *o***i C.

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