“You’re Not Special” Commencement Speech Goes Viral
Do you remember your high school graduation commencement? You may have, if it caused as much controversy as the one at Wellesley High School this year.
David McCullough Jr, a Wellesley High School English teacher, gave a candid commencement speech to the graduating class this year when he told students that “You are not special. You are not exceptional.” He continued making his point by adding that “Even if you're one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you”. For those students still not so sure about his advice, McCullough continued with these stats:
“Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That’s 37,000 valedictorians... 37,000 class presidents... 92,000 harmonizing altos... 340,000 swaggering jocks... 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs”
But why tell high school students, who have just accomplished one of life’s educational milestones that they aren’t special? Why put a damper on an otherwise joyous occasion? Why make them feel as though they are inadequate and ill-equipped for their future?
Maybe because it is the truth.
We live in a society overcome with entitlement. There is a sense of expectation to be taken care of or given various wants or desires. In a society where many kids get phones, computers, iPads, cars, and even jobs, placed into their laps – this teacher was trying to make a point that a fulfilled life is not one that can be bought, coerced, or handed down. The truth is that life is full of challenges and that the best rewards come from hard work, which is what I think this teacher was trying to convey. McCullough concluded with:
“Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is.”
Do I think my kids are special? Of course I do – but I also want them to be prepared for their future, and giving truths like the message in this speech are exactly what will help them be ready for life’s challenges, twists, and triumphs.
What do you think? Was this commencement speech right on or out of line?