RICHMOND, Va. – His grandmother used to stop people in the street and brag after Moreko Griggs finished the ninth grade ranked No. 1 in his class. She was even prouder when he was named the first black valedictorian (search) in Waynesboro (search) High School history.
Then, the day before graduation in June, his grandmother received a call from the school principal: Moreko would have to share the distinction with two white students.
"He said there's been a change and new grades have come in and we have two more valedictorians," Griggs recalled. "We were stunned."
Others in Waynesboro, a small city in the Blue Ridge Mountains (search) about 100 miles west of Richmond, were also shocked, with some calling the decision racist.
After all, Griggs had already been named the school's top student at an awards ceremony in May. Graduation fliers had even been printed listing him as valedictorian.
But Principal Mitch Peeling denied race was a factor in the decision. He said changes were necessary after a parent of one of the white students asked for a review and it was determined that all three students' grades were extremely close.
Traditionally, grades from the final three weeks of classes were not used to calculate grade point averages when choosing the valedictorian. But Peeling and school board officials this year decided to include the final three weeks and a college course grade.
"We do know that there was a flaw in the system," Peeling said. "We're in the process of looking into that and deciding how to do it from here on out."
Peeling's explanation was not good enough for some.
"The change at the last minute certainly leaves a lot of unanswered questions," said the Rev. Mildred Middlebrooks, president of the Waynesboro chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
She has demanded an apology from the school.
The outrage also caused NAACP national board vice chairwoman Roslyn Brock last month to compare it to an academic "lynching."
Griggs himself said he was unaware of the review until the day before graduation.
"You get kind of worried when you are supposed to be the first African-American valedictorian and then stuff has to happen this year," he said. "How (Peeling) conducted everything was truly flawed."
Around the country, some schools have done away with the tradition of naming a valedictorian amid lawsuits from students who believed they were unfairly denied the honor.