You’re not special. It may seem like a condescending message but David McCullough Jr., an English teacher at Wellesley High, insists that it’s a lesson that students have to learn if they want to achieve great things.
McCullough Jr. was tasked with giving the commencement speech at Wellesley High, but instead of congratulating the class on the amazing achievement of graduating, he focused on the fact that millions of other students have also recently graduated. So really, they’ve accomplished nothing special.
“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… Your ceremonial costume… shapeless, uniform, one-size-fits-all. Whether male or female, tall or short, scholar or slacker, spray-tanned prom queen or intergalactic X-Box assassin, each of you is dressed, you’ll notice, exactly the same. And your diploma… but for your name, exactly the same…. 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.”
In his speech, McCullough claimed that the modern world has become obsessed with accolades and has forgotten about genuine achievement.
“You’ve been pampered, doted upon, helmeted, bubble wrapped … feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie…. You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. … We have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.”
McCullough begs the class not to bask in the plethora of trophies that are bestowed upon them, but instead, seek out a fulfilling and meaningful life.
McCullough concludes his speech by telling the class to do what they do because they love doing it, not because someone is going to pat them on the back.
“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… 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.
What do you think of McCullough’s speech?