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What is a Salutatorian?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated May 17, 2024
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A salutatorian is the member of a graduating class who has the next-highest grade point average (GPA) after the valedictorian or valedictorians. In traditional graduation ceremonies, the salutatorian gives a speech before the valedictorian. The term "salutatory," in fact, means a welcoming or opening statement, whereas "valedictory" refers to a farewell. Thus, the terms "salutatorian" and "valedictorian" are derived from those persons' traditional roles in a graduation ceremony. More than one person can receive each designation if their grade point averages are the same.

The designation of salutatorians and valedictorians is most common in the United States and other Western countries. They are often chosen from the entire graduating class of a school, especially a high school. In universities and other large schools that have different disciplines, separate valedictorians and salutatorians might be chosen for the various disciplines, particularly when separate graduation ceremonies are held. Choosing one or more valedictorians and salutatorians for each ceremony provides people to fill the traditional speaking roles at the ceremony.

A Salutatorian's Role at a Graduation Ceremony

In addition to giving a salutatory speech, a salutatorian's role in a graduation ceremony might include introducing other speakers, such as the valedictorian or valedictorians, school administrators, alumni who have been invited to participate or a special guest who has been invited to give a commencement speech to the graduating class. A salutatorian might also announce or present awards or honors to graduates for excellence in academics, athletics or other extracurricular activities. He or she might also be asked to offer a memorial to anyone associated with the school who has passed away during that term, such as students or faculty members, or might pay tribute to inspirational students, alumni, faculty members, community leaders or benefactors.

In some graduation ceremonies, an invocation or benediction might be offered by the salutatorian. This is most often the case for graduation ceremonies held by private schools affiliated with a religion or religious institution. Many public schools have moved away from using prayers during school functions, although some schools will allow basic, non-denominational prayers.

More than Grades Might be Considered

Although grades are the primary determining factor in choosing both the valedictorian and the salutatorian, other elements might be taken into consideration as well. Extracurricular activities, behavior and charity and community work also might be considered. A student who receives the honor of being the valedictorian or salutatorian tends to be seen as a role model, so the example that he or she sets for the rest of the class and the underclassmen is considered to be important. In some cases, students who have violated certain rules or otherwise failed to meet certain requirements or standards might not be allowed to serve as valedictorians or salutatorians, regardless of their GPA ranking in their graduating class.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Glasis — On Feb 17, 2014

Several states in the United States offer college scholarships to salutatorians and valedictorians in each high school in the state.

Although the scholarship amounts vary, it is common for these top students to be offered full scholarships to any college or university in the state.

State governments do this to encourage high school students to work to achieve good grades. Also, in less affluent communities, this helps good students who might otherwise not be able to afford a college education.

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