Arkansas' 'egregious' valedictorian scandal: Racist?

A black teenager earns her school's top GPA, but still has to share her status as valedictorian with a white student

An Arkansas high school graduation
(Image credit: Kevin Dodge/Corbis)

An 18-year-old Arkansas high school student — who got only a single B in four years — is angry that she had to share her campus' valedictorian crown. Kymberly Wimberly, a black teenage mom, was forced to share the honor with a white student, allegedly after Wimberly's mother, who works at the school, overheard other school employees suggesting that Wimberly's selection as valedictorian at the predominantly white campus could cause "a big mess." Now, Wimberly is suing the school system, asking for $75,000 in damages and for the school record to be corrected. Superintendent Thomas Gathen told CNN that "this is strictly an academic issue and a policy issue, not a racial issue," and that the white student earned her co-valedictorian appointment, even if her GPA was slightly below Wimberly's. Still, plenty of commentators are crying foul. Do they have a point?

Yes. This is outrageous: "Is it 1911 or 2011?" says Nsenga Burton at The Root. "If a teen mother finishes school and at the top of the senior class, then she should be praised, not humiliated." The principal "should get an F in common sense," and lose his job. Blacks deserve equal treatment, period.

"Black valedictorian can't be top student?"

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Hold on. There's more here than meets the eye: Obviously, this looks like an "incendiary," "egregious act of discrimination," says HyperVocal. But "there just seems to be a lot more going on here than we have the information to process." We've yet to hear from the school's principal, who named the white student as co-valedictorian. We don't know what the school's valedictorian requirements are. Is it merely the student with the highest GPA, or is there some sort of conduct requirement, too? Until we know more, "we shouldn't rush to judge."

"Is this small-town Arkansas high school racist?"

Regardless, the school blew it: What a "dumb way of discriminating against black kids," says Elie Mystal at Above The Law. "If you really want to give a little white affirmative action when it comes to graduation ceremonies, just appoint a 'graduation speaker' who is different from the valedictorian." Instead, the school's lack of subtlety all but ensured this flurry of outrage.

"How many kids can you have and still be high-school valedictorian?"

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