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Salutatorian is an academic title given in the United States, Philippines, and Canada to the second highest graduate of the entire graduating class of a specific discipline. Only the valedictorian is ranked higher. This honor is traditionally based on grade point average (GPA) and number of credits taken, but consideration may also be given to other factors such as co-curricular and extracurricular activities. The title comes from the salutatorian's traditional role as the first speaker at a graduation ceremony, delivering the salutation (where the valedictorian, on the other hand, speaks last, delivering the valediction). In a high school setting, a salutatorian may also be asked to speak about the current graduating class or to deliver an invocation or benediction. In some instances, the salutatorian may even deliver an introduction for the valedictorian. The general themes of a salutatorian speech and valediction are usually of growth, outlook towards the future, and thankfulness.
At the universities of Princeton and Harvard a Latin orator, usually a classics major, is chosen for his or her ability to write and deliver a speech to the audience in that language. At Princeton, this speaker is known as the "Latin salutatorian"; at Harvard the Latin oration, though not called a "salutatory" address as such, occurs first among the three student orations, and fulfills the traditional function of salutation. These traditions date from the earliest years of the universities, when all graduates were expected to have attained proficiency in the "Learned Languages," i.e., Latin and Greek.
Of course, this traditional use of Latin for the salutatorian's speech has become problematic as Latin has become the province of the Classics department rather than a required competency for all graduating seniors. At Harvard, an assistant may hold up cue cards instructing the audience to cheer, laugh and groan at the appropriate moments. At Princeton the graduating seniors are provided with a special version of the printed program.
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