Life isn’t fair. My mother frequently reminded me of this fact while I was growing up. There was one particular event in high school that seemed dramatically unfair to me, so much so that I marched my usually timid, compliant self right up to the principal and gave him a piece of my mind. It all started with graduation preparations. My high school did it oddly in a number of ways, I think. They decided not to have a valedictorian, in order not to hurt the feelings of everyone who wasn’t valedictorian. To determine who would speak at graduation, the students in the academic top ten percent were invited to write a speech and audition if they were interested. That amounted to approximately thirty students, two of which were boys(!). We were told that our speeches should be well polished and our presentation practiced, and a panel of teachers and parents would rate each one on a rubric. The highest scoring students would be chosen to speak. I worked hard on my speech and practiced it several times. I auditioned my speech and watched the other students give theirs. There were several good ones, and a few clearly not good ones. Among the not-so-good was that of the one boy of the two who had chosen to audition. The next day when the four chosen speakers were announced, the boy was one of them. Although they had made a point that the speeches had to be well-refined to score points and to be considered, the boy was given another chance and asked to rewrite his speech. It was very clear to me that he was chosen because he was a boy, in spite of and not because of his speech; they didn’t want four girls and zero boys speaking at graduation.
I spoke with a number of teachers who had been on the panel. Most kind of squirmed and wouldn’t answer my questions. One basically admitted that it was indeed true, that they had chosen the boy because he was a boy. I was furious that I and other girls who had worked harder on our speeches and done a better job were passed over so they could have a token boy on the roster of speakers. That was when I spoke my mind to the principal, who flatly denied that the school would do anything of the sort, and was so sorry I felt that way.
From my current perspective I can appreciate that they would want both sexes represented among the speakers. It was very likely a difficult decision to make. At the time I was infuriated that they would choose that boy, who was unprepared and delivered poorly, over many more qualified girls. What would be most “fair” in this situation? What they did, or letting the best speakers be chosen regardless of where gender lines fell? I’ve reflected on that experience later as I think about things like affirmative action and other quota policies. I also wonder why the top of the class was so dramatically skewed to girls. The ratio of girls to boys in college is growing and they have outnumbered boys for a while now. This web articlestates that the college gender gap is reversing, rather than simply being eliminated, and gives some theories as to why, for anyone interested. This talk by Pres. Hinckley also references the trend, although I don’t personally see it to be as problematic as he does. Part of me thinks it’s about time we women get ahead of the game.
Regarding my earlier experience, my initial impulse is that it seems most fair to simply give the most qualified person the job, or the calling, or admittance to the school, or the chance to speak. But then I consider that the opportunities to develop qualifications are certainly not fairly meted out, so perhaps some compensation for that is worthwhile. What I do know is it that would have felt fairer to me back in high school if we had not had some sort of reverse affirmative action, and simply given out the spots to the best speakers.
Artwork: A Pause For Thought
Pierre Auguste Cot