Mysterious Awards Debunked

Head of Upper School John Ashton, teachers and students discuss the process of selecting recipients of end-of-year awards

Springtime at Hockaday. Tis’ the season to partake in graduation rehearsals, cram for final tests and—familiar to all—make regular treks to Hoblitzelle Auditorium for a slew end-of-year awards ceremonies.

The awards ceremonies themselves are no mysterious events to Hockadaisies: nearly every Day 6 conference, in addition to other times, are filled with these gatherings in the final weeks of the school year. But the process of choosing awards recipients remains hazy to many.

The Upper School offers 93 awards to students—excluding the possibility that multiple girls win one award.

Various types of awards are presented at different assemblies, which include Cum Laude, Founder’s Day, Sudie Duncan, Underclassmen Recognition and Honors.

Rather than a single person choosing winners, teachers gather to discuss potential recipients.

“It’s very much a collaborative department decision—a department award, not a teacher award,” English Department Chair Dr. Deborah Moreland said.

Separate committees are created to select recipients for Cum Laude, Founder’s Day and Sudie Duncan awards. Another committee convenes to decide recipients of the Junior Book Awards, which are presented at the Underclassmen Recognition Assembly.

Academic awards are presented at the Underclassmen Recognition and Final Honors assemblies. Each department presents its own academic awards, and the department faculty members usually meet about one month prior to each assembly.

At these meetings, teachers bring student nominations. At committee meetings for Founder’s Day or Sudie Duncan, the faculty reviews student and teacher nominations.

“What we’re looking for is ‘what is the community telling us?’ And can we affirm what the community is saying based on the knowledge in the room of these students,” Eugene McDermott Headmistress Kim Wargo said.

There is no set number of nominations a student must have in order to win an award. Finally, after hours of discussion and several meetings, teachers affirm nominations or agree upon award winners.

“The goal is to have a consensus,” Wargo said.

Following, the department chair reports the award recipients to Upper School Head Administrative Assistant Barby Power, who types a script for presentation at the awards ceremonies. Upper School Head John Ashton then reviews the script.

Each award has a citation which indicates the general characteristics of recipients; these are read at assemblies before awards are presented. Teachers follow these citations as guidelines for choosing awards recipients.

The administration recently reviewed awards to see whether or not they are still relevant to the Hockaday community. If they are not, they are “sunset”—removed from awards ceremonies.

For some teachers, choosing awards recipients can be a difficult process.

“We have too many good choices!” Foreign Language Department Chair Lisa Camp said.

“The process is very difficult because of how many deserving students we have,” College Counseling Associate Heath Einstein said. “We recognize that no matter how many awards we give out, it’s probably not enough.”

On the contrary, for other teachers, the process is “never difficult,” said Mathematics Department Chair Jeri Sutton. “We always give the awards to deserving students.”

The Science Department, like some other academic departments and awards committees, tries to distribute awards evenly among students.

“If a student didn’t get an award at one point, we seriously consider her the next time around,” Science Department Chair Dr. Beverly Lawson said. “Overall, we don’t have very much overlap, and we think that’s the right way to do it.”

History Department Chair Steve Kramer acknowledged, however, the existence of the stereotype that the same girls receive awards time and time again.

“You know the common complaint: ‘the same kids always win these awards,’” Kramer said. “We’ve been hearing it forever. So what? Get out there and do something.”

Senior Daly, a recipient of this year’s Founder’s Day award, agreed that some girls do often get multiple awards—“because they deserve the awards.”

Regardless, Ashton “place[s] high value on every girl here who is working very hard every day to be and do her best. That’s the struggle with all the awards processes—we do our best to be very thoughtful.”

Because of the difficulty involved in selecting award winners, Ashton said that he hopes that those students not selected to receive an award will not fall prey to misconceptions.

“I believe there’s value in recognition,” Ashton said. “I believe there’s also very much at a school like ours where girls achieve at a high level and work very hard and may not be recognized. That tension—we try to manage as much as possible, but I don’t want girls to get that message—I didn’t get the award, therefore, I didn’t try hard enough.”

Junior Sarah , who received one of this year’s Sudie Duncan awards, added that “awards do tend to mark some sort of success, but they are in no way the only mark of success.”

The awards recognize girls whose goals are not to simply win an award, Daly said. “The awards serve as more of a recognition of girls who act a certain way all the time, not just when people are scrutinizing them.”

Furthermore, senior Tita , one of this year’s Founder’s Day award recipients, said that students should act in courteous ways regardless of awards.

“Hockaday students will act with courtesy and character just because they know it is right, not just to win an award,” Tita said.

The diversity of interests and strengths of Hockaday students calls for recognitions in a variety of categories. Awards recognize students for their passion for learning, academic achievements or benevolent disposition. Other awards, such as the Sudie Duncan Award, commemorate former beloved members of the Hockaday community through the honor they bestow on current students.

“We want to recognize students who achieve in different ways,” Moreland said. “Hockaday does recognize ‘the best.’ We try to have a variety of what the ‘best’ means, too.”

And thus, the end-of-year awards assemblies will remain a tradition at Hockaday.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge the values of the school,” Wargo said. “They really celebrate the values of Hockaday…it’s an important part of our ceremony and tradition.”

-Tiffany