But a CNN KFile review found that Walker himself has been repeating the claim for years. Walker’s comments in 2017, and others made over the years, show the former football star repeatedly misrepresented his academic credentials.
Walker also made the claim in another interview in 2017.
The Walker campaign did not provide proof of Walker’s claims when asked by CNN, but they defended his record as a professional athlete.
Walker is endorsed by former President Donald Trump and is expected to be the Republican nominee to run against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in November.
While Walker was a top student at his high school and the president of the Beta Club — he maintained an “A” average to be in the school’s Beta Club — CNN’s KFile found no evidence he was the class valedictorian.
“If I’m proud of anything I did in my high school career, it’s what I did in the classroom that I reflect on and relish the most. I did more than just shed the “stupid” label placed on me as a result of my speech impediment. I shed it, erased it, and rewrote it with the titles: Beta Club president and class valedictorian,” wrote Walker in his 2008 “Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder.”
CNN’s KFile reviewed Walker’s high school yearbooks and coverage of him in local newspapers at the time.
“There is not a single voter in Georgia who believes that whether Herschel graduated at the ‘top of his class’ or as Valedictorian 40 years ago has any bearing on his ability to be a great United States Senator,” Mallory Blount, communications director for the campaign, said in a statement.
The campaign also did not provide an explanation for why it removed the claim that Walker was valedictorian from his website. When repeatedly asked if the campaign stood by the since-removed claim from his website, the Walker’s campaign manager Scott Paradise sent the same statement three times in a row which did not address KFile’s questions.
“Multiple reporters wrote about this 40 years ago. If you have a problem with what they wrote, please contact them. If you have a difficult time getting in touch with them, ask yourself why you are asking such a stupid question,” said Paradise to CNN.
Johnson County Schools declined to comment and directed questions to Walker’s campaign when asked if they named a valedictorian that year or if Walker was the top student.
An evolving claim
It’s unclear when Walker began claiming he graduated from Georgia, and press accounts began listing him as returning to get his degree as early as 1983 after he left to join the United States Football League, a rival to the National Football League in the 1980s. Walker joined the New Jersey Generals, which was owned by then-businessman Trump. Over the years, Walker repeatedly told interviewers he had gone back to Georgia during the off-season to take classes. A 1986 article from The Dallas Morning News on his football career states Walker completed his degree in criminal justice and features a quote from Walker talking about his degree.
“Getting a degree is one of the paths you can take on the way to becoming an FBI man,” Walker said. “Of course, my life is not going in that direction right now, but I think police work, especially the FBI, would be my choice if I wasn’t a pro football player.”
“You know it was said whether I leave or stay in school. It came up that I leave — and what was weird about that is people said, ‘Why would you leave college so early?’ And that’s like guys, ‘I went back to get my degree which is what you’re supposed to do.'”
CNN’s Sam Woodward and Drew Myers contributed to this report.