‘You’re not special,’ high school teacher tells graduating students
Posted by Dean Holden at June 30th, 2012
By Andrea Lee-Greenberg, CBC.ca News, June 8, 2012
Forget carpe diem. This high school commencement address was more like carpe downer.
Or so it seemed, at first.
“None of you is special. You are not special. You are not exceptional,” English teacher David McCullough Jr. told graduating students as he began his commencement address at Wellesley High School in Wellesley, Mass.
Instead, McCullough continued, “You’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. … You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored.
“Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet. Why, maybe you’ve even had your picture in the [local paper]! And now you’ve conquered high school….
“But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.”
Those are bold statements to make, when one is speaking to 300 or so students and the parents that raised them.
A video of the address, delivered June 1, shows a small group of what appear to be students and faculty by turns laughing or looking quizzical in reaction to McCullough’s words. Chuckles and applause can be heard from the audience.
But the crowd went silent as McCullough continued:
“If everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless.
‘Embrace the challenge’
“We have of late … to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.
“No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it…. Now it’s ‘So what does this get me?’
“Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view…. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others….
“The sweetest joys of life … come only with the recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is.”
After nearly 13 minutes, the speech ended to hearty applause. There was, however, no standing ovation.
Online, where the speech has gone viral, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.