Valedictorians say fame fades quickely

by Brad Russo | 6/14/98 5:00am

While they considered being named Dartmouth valedictorians quite an accomplishment, three former recipients of the honor said it has not had a major impact on their life.

"It definitely got me my first job which was washing dishes at a night club," Michael Lowenthal '90 said. "They asked if I had any experience and I said 'I was valedictorian of Dartmouth' and they said 'well for four dollars an hour we'll take the risk.'"

Lowenthal, a creative writing and religion major at the College, said the best part of being valedictorian was delivering the address.

"I never had the opportunity, and I doubt I ever will again, to speak to that many people and give them a piece of my mind," Lowenthal said.

Lowenthal announced in his speech he was homosexual, grabbing nationwide attention and angering some.

Despite the media attention generated by his speech, Lowenthal said his celebrity faded fast.

"Every now and then I'll run into someone who remembers hearing about the speech, but generally people aren't impressed by it," Lowenthal said.

Lowenthal said he does not think being named valedictorian is very meaningful.

"How can you compare one person's college experience to another's?," he asked.

Lowenthal moved from washing dishes back to Hanover where he worked as an editorial assistant for the University Press of New England.

He has since worked as a freelance writer and has been published in the New York Times Magazine and Book Review.

His first novel, The Same Embrace, is being published this September by Dutton Press.

"The main character is an Amherst [College] grad, but he's not a valedictorian," Lowenthal said.

Steve Guch '67 said the skills and characteristics which enabled him to become valedictorian were more beneficial than the honor itself.

"You learn how to approach a problem and work a problem very hard to come to a conclusion," Guch said. "Intensity of directed activity is important."

A physics major, Guch managed an outdoor construction project the summer after graduation.

He received his masters degree in physics from the University of Massachusetts, and said he had all his doctoral course work finished, but was called to serve in the Vietnam War.

He served in the Navy as the main propulsion officer on board the USS Bainbridge, and said the skills he acquired in his valedictory pursuit helped during his service.

"It helped me get through with reasonable grace and a sense of humor," he said.

After his three war-time cruises, Guch continued his defense career, first at a military laboratory and then in the laser research industry.

"Wearing the star has not brought me forward except to cause some amazement at cocktail parties," Guch said of his honor. "Awards wax and wane in importance ... but the characteristics that led to it have been really valuable."

Stephen Jennings, the College's 1983 valedictorian, said there is little distinction between the highly ranked graduates at a school like Dartmouth.

"There's not much of a gap between the valedictorian and everyone else," Jennings said. "I think that if you graduate with any kind of honor from a school as good as Dartmouth ... people are going to recognize your commitment."

Jennings studied for two years at Oxford University after graduation and then taught high school.

After a few years back in the classroom, Jennings moved to management consulting and is now a partner in a consulting firm.

He said the value of graduating as valedictorian diminishes over time.

"People start worrying more about how you did on your last job," Jennings said.

"I almost never indicate I was valedictorian, just that I graduated from Dartmouth," Jennings said.