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Why did Springfield High School deny one of its highest achievers the title of valedictorian?

Tracey Meares Springfield High School photo
No Title for Tracey
Tracey Meares and Springfield High School

The counselor told Tracey Meares that she was the top student in her class and on track to be named Springfield High School’s 1984 valedictorian. But it didn’t happen that way.

That year, the school stopped its practice of naming a valedictorian, instead choosing to make Meares, who is Black, simply one of the top students, A white teenager whose classes were not as rigorous was also named a top student and was taken around to appear before local organizations where Meares was not invited. The practice of naming top students for honors rather than a valedictorian continued until 2012.

Today Meares is a distinguished professor of law at Yale University and former professor at the University of Chicago. She is the first black woman to have the title of tenured professor of law at both universities.

She says she remembers her time in Springfield, but doesn’t like to think about what happened to her.

The documentary will be shown at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 16 at Springfield’s Hoogland Center for the Arts. It will be livestreamed at 3 p.m. on Facebook. The viewings had sold out, but the center switched spaces, putting No Title for Tracey in a larger theater.

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is lead editor of Illinois Issues' feature articles, working with freelance writers, and covering the equity beat. Maureen joined the Illinois Issues in 1998 as projects editor. Previously, she worked at three Illinois daily newspapers, most recently the suburban Chicago-based Daily Herald, where she served stints as an education reporter and copy editor. She graduated in 1985 with a bachelor's in journalism. She also has a master's degree in English from the University of Illinois at Springfield.
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