In 1901 my great uncle was awarded a gold medal for "excellence in all branches," which made him Dux of school. I'm not sure what entitlement Dux brought, but no one could argue with the beauty and rarity of the medal, which survives. In those days dignitaries with mayoral chains, or sometimes sirs before their names, would mount the Memorial to the War Dead Stage--that would be the South African or earlier war-- and give patriotic speeches, before handing books, with latin mottoes pasted, to boys who came first in the essay exams that began about age seven. These were written with ink pens right on through University, where men were finally ripe to consider how history might have been had Cleopatra's nose been a half an inch longer. The best swots amongst, those with the most impressively pen-dented fingers, were sent to stick same into the Empire's leaks and cracks, thus holding it together about a minute longer.
Personally I only ever won "Little Women," or something of that sort, for Scripture Knowledge.
At the American Empire's peak, in my daughter's High School there was last week an awards dessert evening, where they poured ginger ale mixed with seven up, a combination punch that goes with supermarket chocolate cake rather like a cart and pig. The program, lasting one and a half hours, held back no time for inspirational or other kinds of speeches for there were two single-spaced pages of awards to be given away: cash prizes in memory of those who died of leukemia or who crashed cars, and cash from the Pratt Plumbing Basketball and Business Scholarship Committee, which awards each year to the student who best exemplifies the great values to be found at Pratt Plumbing. There were certificates for the outstanding student in band, in sign language, in dual languages, in wrestling, in tennis, in football, in business studies, on the Site Committee, for the student from Columbia, to the student who best exemplifies the spirit of Rotarianianism.
But there were no certificates for Chemistry or History or, of course, Scripture Knowledge. Instead two awards were given, one to the best in all of Science and one to ditto in all of the Humanities. How the best Chemist bested the best Biologist or the best Economist got the better of the top Anthropologist was not revealed. I'm betting essay exams and ink pens were not involved, for they are gone the way of Dux.
Sixty one valedictorian medals were awarded, each the size of a small saucer.
Apart from the fellow who got into West Point, and who thus brought out a patriotic surge in about half the audience, it was a teacher who got the biggest round of applause...and the West Hills Gastroenterology prize.
David Ritchie, Portland, Oregon ------------------------------------------------------------------ To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off, digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html