Written By: Robyn Shulman
David McCullough Jr., a longtime English teacher of Wellesely High School, presented a live reality check speech to the graduates entitled “You Are Not Special”.
He states: “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 limit ourselves to high school? After all, you’re leaving it. So think about this: 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.”
The Webster Dictionary defines the word special as being distinguished by some unusual quality; especially, being in some way superior. As parents, we all want our kids to be special, and they are very special. They are special to us, to their friends, and to those whose lives they are part of. On the outer lining of that special place is a world that does not revolve around them, nor considers them to be perfect at everything. Kids should be praised when appropriate, taken care of, and nurtured as they become young adults. However, when parents choose to praise their child for behavior that is truly not special, they are providing a great disservice to their children. Sharing the reality of life and acknowledging the fact that their child is not good at everything is a gift, because the truth is, they are not good at everything, nor will they ever be. Our kids need to realize that life is not ‘all about me’, competition in our world is high, and nobody outside of their family and friends will provide the instant gratification and acknowledgement in which they may have grown accustomed. As parents, it is our responsibility to teach our kids about the realities of life. We must epitomize how reward comes to those who work hard, achievements are not handed over; and how to truly understand the world around them. We must teach them how to follow their passions, rise after a fall, and to live life not only for themselves, but also for those around them. If we can exemplify this behavior, we can show them that making a difference in the lives of others is what truly identifies them as special.
At the end of the speech McCullough states: “Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct. It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things. Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. 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.”
I truly commend Mr. McCullough. It is not easy to get up in front of a crowd and say it like it is. It is a breath of fresh air, and a wake up call many students and parents need. The act of giving and living a life untouched by selfishness is the life that brings true happiness. I know how good it feels to give, and to give is what I intend to do every day of my life.
How do you feel about this speech?