The Hellgate and Sentinel High School graduates of 2017 will produce the last valedictorians in the Missoula County Public School system. According to MCPS School District One Superintendent Mark Thane, the valedictorian system is being done away with because students were choosing to sacrifice learning opportunities to preserve a 4.0 Grade Point Average.

"There were students who were electing not to opt into the most rigorous courses in some situations because they wanted to preserve their Grade Point Average and that was counter to what we wanted to see students do as a school district," Thane said. "Essentially the decision was made that we would move away from valedictorians and we would work toward something like what the Eagle Medallion represents.

Big Sky High School hands out “Eagle Medallions” to students with high academic achievements as well as civic involvement. Thane says the goal is to recognize a student’s “overall” performance and that there will be more than just one recipient each year.

"The intent is to look at the overall, now there are certainly scholarship opportunities that come up that are discipline specific, etc, but the concept of the medallion is to recognize students for their whole body of work, including both academics and community service," Thane said. "Typically I would expect 10, 12 or 14 kids to be recognized [with a medallion]"

The decision to get rid of the valedictorian system was actually made in 2014. Big Sky High School and Seeley Lake High School already use different systems. Thane says valedictorian status is relatively low on the list of priorities for universities who are analyzing incoming freshmen.