Valedictorian News Coverage: The Light & Dark of It

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Photo: University of Notre Dame/Matt Cashore

Her name is Katie Washington, and she is the first African-American valedictorian to graduate from the University of Notre Dame.

In the university’s 168-year history, there has not been an African-American valedictorian.

Until now.

The 21-year-old West Side High School valedictorian from Gary, Indiana made history last May as she gave her second valedictory address to a packed Notre Dame stadium. Ms. Washington had been accepted to five top universities, including Harvard, but graduated with a 4.0 GPA in Biological Sciences from the University of Notre Dame.

Following in her physician father’s footsteps, Ms. Washington is now pursuing a joint M.D./Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Diverse Issues in Higher Education details Washington’s rise to the top of the esteemed university. And the Examiner’s Essie Nail reports on mainstream media’s curious silence about Notre Dame’s first African-American valedictorian.

In her report, Ms. Nail makes a notable and valid point: “Many are concerned that mainstream media sources have seemingly not found this event newsworthy. Conversely, headlines were enthusiastically and widely reported when a white male, Joshua Packwood, was named valedictorian at Atlanta’s Morehouse College in 2008.

Morehouse is a historically black institution and apparently this event was more historically significant. In fact, US News and World Report published as a lead-in, “a white college valedictorian is nothing to blog about, unless he went to Morehouse.“”

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Joshua Packwood (Photo: Jessica McGowan)

Below is just a small sampling of mainstream media headlines about Morehouse valedictorian Joshua Packwood:

CNN: “White valedictorian: A first for historically black Morehouse

MSNBC: “A different kind of ‘Morehouse Man‘”

CBS NEWS: “Unlikely First at Historic Black College” and “White Morehouse Valedictorian

ABC NEWS: “Changing Face of Historically Black Colleges

NPR News: “Valedictorian Makes History

Interestingly, attempts to locate anything about Katie Washington in mainstream media news outlets reveals that this African-American valedictorian is non-existant in their news archives, or relegated to small local affiliates.

Both these students have made history.

Both are to be lauded for their accomplishments.

And both make us all proud.

It is unfortunate that our mainstream news media does not appear to see it this way.

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What are your thoughts about the disparity in news coverage of these two history-making valedictorians?

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World News Wednesday

4 thoughts on “Valedictorian News Coverage: The Light & Dark of It

  1. Pingback: “World’s Worst” Senate Reporting | Sylver Blaque

  2. Pingback: Moorehouse valivictorian | Imagespot

  3. There is an excellent point you made here that I did not consider: that is, the “strangeness” of a white male choosing to attend a historically black (i.e. perceived “inferior”) college, and that element in itself overriding Ms. Washington’s accomplishment. Thank you for this enlightening comment.

  4. The only thing that I can think of is that, so often Black people are expected to assimilate and “get along” in a predominately White world in order to be successful. Where as a White man normally wouldn’t elect to be a minority in a traditional predominately Black environment. Plus there is the silent and incorrect assumption that HBCUs are somehow inferior to schools such as Notre Dame as clearly the young man from Morehouse could have easily had equally the same amount of academic achievement. The media’s racial bias is clear– a BW excelling in a PWI is not unusual and newsworthy–because we are supposed to be “post-racial”. A WM excelling in an HBCU is strange and unheard of– “Why would an intelligent, good-looking, all-around star student, voluntarily choose to be in an “inferior” environment? It is an insult, to say the least and through no fault of his own, it made him seem like a novelty act when, just like Ms. Washington, only went to the institution to get a quality education and to be the best they can be in their areas of study. The fact that any of these stories are controversial in any way, shows that this society is far from this so-called “post-racial” ideal.

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