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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 news editor and equity and justice beat reporter for NPR Illinois, where she has been on the staff since 2014 after Illinois Issues magazine’s merger with the station. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1998 as projects editor and became managing editor in 2003. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, she was an education reporter and copy editor at three local newspapers, including the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in English from UIS.
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