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She's Almost Too Good to Be True, and to Prove It She's Going to Sue

Asked to share her valedictorian honors, a New Jersey teenager files a $2.7-million lawsuit.

May 07, 2003|Hans Allhoff | Hans Allhoff is a graduate student at the London School of Economics.

"Who is Blair Hornstine?" may be a tougher question for most Americans than "Where is Osama bin Laden?"

It shouldn't be. Hornstine is a high school senior and straight-A student from Moorestown, N.J., who thinks she should be the sole valedictorian of her graduating class.

Her school district wants her to share this honor with two other students, whose GPAs are only slightly lower than hers -- essentially because they took gym classes, which receive no special weight in a GPA calculation. Hornstine was excused from gym because she suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome.

Now, Hornstine has asked a federal judge to intervene on her behalf. What's more, she has sued her school district for $200,000 in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages.

She is being discriminated against and humiliated on account of her disability, she claims. (Her father is a state Superior Court judge and is on her side publicly.)

"Not only does the conferral of co-valedictorian status inaccurately suggest that plaintiff Blair Hornstine was not at the top of her class, but ... it actually raises a derogatory implication that her performance is not what it seems," said her attorney, Edwin J. Jacobs Jr.

One hopes Hornstine will either drop her case or lose it, and then stand proudly with her two equally accomplished classmates on graduation day, June 19. It is a little too early to tell, however. U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson has scheduled a hearing for Thursday. The Moorestown Board of Education has planned a May 12 meeting of its own.

Meanwhile, Princeton, Stanford, Harvard, Duke and Cornell all admitted Hornstine to their classes of 2007. And for understandable reasons: Aside from her stellar academic record, she scored a 1570 on her SAT, is an accomplished orator and debater and founded the Tri-County Prom Dress Drive, which collected and distributed more than 400 prom dresses to girls from low-income families.

She also helped raise money for 10 Chinese orphans to have oral surgery, which earned her an invitation to China to address a global conference there.

She was even an Olympic torchbearer.

Yet while her academic and extracurricular accomplishments are not up for discussion, Hornstine's character now is: What kind of student decides that simply doing well is not enough? What kind of person, when asked to share such an honor as valedictorian, claims an exclusive right to it?

Although Princeton -- just to pick a school -- has a compelling interest in filling its classrooms and dormitories with accomplished young men and women just like Hornstine, it also has an interest in making sure those young men and women have an appropriate attitude toward learning and academic success.

It is unclear whether Hornstine -- whose ego and litigious instinct appear to drive her -- has such an attitude. Someone who simply loves to learn would not do what she is doing.

It is too late for Princeton to rescind its offer of admission to Hornstine. She has reportedly decided to go to Harvard. This timing is unfortunate. Princeton, and every other school to which she was admitted, could have -- and should have -- made a powerful statement by saying, "Blair Hornstine, we were wrong about you."

Hornstine may seem to possess something special; but in fact, she's just a member of a hyper-accomplished generation for whom getting good grades and doing good deeds has become a way of life.

It would be better for the nation's elite colleges and universities to offer admission to those candidates with a more sophisticated sense of success and deeper appreciation for academic life.

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