Twin valedictorians: two '02s earn 4.0 GPAs

by Kathleen McDermott | 6/9/02 5:00am

Jonathan Altman '02 and Mary Bennett '02 -- both sporting perfect 4.0 grade point averages -- have been named co-valedictorians for the Class of 2002.

This year represents the second recorded instance in College history when valedictory honors been split between two students. And only rarely do valedictorians manage to achieve four years of straight-As.

Both Altman and Bennett, however, maintain that despite their unblemished academic records the honor was never totally expected.

Bennett said the news seemed "surreal for a minute or two."

Altman added that the prospect of speaking at Commencement is still slightly daunting.

Yet given the outpouring of academic honors both have received at Dartmouth, the news should have been no great surprise.

Altman has received 12 academic citations. Bennett, when asked how many academic citations she had received, paused for a moment. "I don't really keep a mental count," she explained, before estimating the number at seven.

Later, however, after examining her records, she retracted her statement. The accurate figure, according to Bennett, was nine. A Spanish major and government minor, she received citations in both fields, as well as sociology. Bennett also received the government department's Edson Award twice, for work in American government as well as comparative government.

Both Altman and Bennett were Rufus Choate scholars -- an honor bestowed to those within the top 5 percent at the College -- all four years, and the two shared the Phi Beta Kappa sophomore prize, given to the sophomore student with the highest GPA.

Despite their many academic achievements at Dartmouth, both co-valedictorians emphasized the need to balance academics with other pursuits.

"College is about a lot more than academics," Altman explained. Five years from now, he added, his memories of Dartmouth won't be of academics, but of times with his friends and peers.

Bennett echoed his sentiments, explaining that grade point average is not everything, and a one-dimensional focus on work is simply "not healthful."

When asked how a student can avoid such a focus, she grinned. "My friends have been a great help with that," she said with a laugh. "They're great at helping me see the bigger picture in life."

Bennett and Altman, however, expressed nothing but pleasure when describing their academic experience at Dartmouth.

Altman explained that as a high school senior, he was torn between attending Dartmouth and matriculating at Stanford.

Dartmouth won out, however, because he saw the College as more focused on undergraduate education. "Professors are tremendously accessible," he said.

Bennett said that she sees a strong "sense of community" among both students and professors.

Four years here, Altman added, have confirmed his initial impression that Dartmouth would be a "great place to learn as an undergraduate."

A double major in economics and philosophy, he said he especially enjoyed his time on the philosophy department's Foreign Study Program in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Interacting "with people who see the world differently from an average American college student" was key, he said.

What stands out most in his memories of Scotland, however, is the day he -- along with several other Dartmouth students -- biked to Loch Ness and spent the afternoon in search of the Loch Ness monster.

Although they did not find the fabled creature, they did talk with a local man who has made his life in searching for the monster -- an example, perhaps, of interaction with one who sees the world differently from the average American college student.

During his junior fall, Altman studied economics at Oxford University. While not an FSP, Altman's second term away was as a member of the Keble College Exchange, a program run by Dartmouth's economics and government departments.

Altman explained that he is now "looking to get away from academics for the immediate future." A Seattle native, Altman will transplant himself to Boston come September. Once there, he will begin work for a consulting firm.

Such a job, he added, should serve as "a stepping stone to any number of things."

What those "things" will be is still uncertain. While tossing around the possibility of a future in business or pursuing further education, he shook his head and admitted he has "no idea" what he will do in the long-term.

Bennett likewise admitted that her future is somewhat up in the air. She too will be moving to Boston but is "not yet sure" what she will be doing.

She hopes to work in the business field, echoing Altman's sentiments that such a path will keep her future career options open.

Those future career options, Bennett said, will likely involve law school. A Composition Center tutor while at Dartmouth, she explained that she loves writing and the process of pulling together details to formulate an argument.

Bennett has also been very involved in political and legislative issue. Her junior fall, sponsored by the Rockefeller Center, she interned with Congressman Richard Burr, a Republican from her home state of North Carolina.

Seeing "the physical process of how legislation goes through" and "government theory in practice" was fascinating, she explained.

Back at Dartmouth she frequents Agora, an organization based out of the Rockefeller Center which engages students in political discussions and debates.

She added that she has loved going to all sorts of campus lectures and debates. "Such amazing people come here to speak," she explained.

Rounding off the College's top graduation honors, Swati Rana '02 has been named the class' salutatorian. An English major from Ontario, Rana compiled a 3.97 grade point average.

In addition to receiving numerous awards from the English department, Rana has been a Rufus Choate scholar and participated in the Presidential Scholar program.