Mom never told me I was special. Of course, if she did, she would be lying. How can you be special if you’re one of 10? Maybe you’re one-tenth special.
I say this after a “controversial” graduation speech given by David McCullough Jr.
The son of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian is an English teacher at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts. And he minced no words when he addressed the class of 2012.
“None of you is special. You’re not special,” said McCullough. “Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped… We’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs. Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room and hundreds gasp at your every tweet. But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.”
The reaction triggered a firestorm. The speech went viral with (as of this writing) more than half a million hits. And typically, parents were huffing and puffing.
“To make everyone feel that [graduation] is inconsequential, that’s not fair,” one mother was quoted as saying. “They need to be told, ‘hey we are behind you. We know you can do it.’”
Said one student, “Graduation should be a time when we are happy with what we’ve done.”
What have they done? They did what they were supposed to do, by law even: graduate high school.
McCullough is making a larger point. “If everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, then trophies are meaningless.”
He is not just some scold who wants to rain on the parades of privileged kids who are heading to top colleges that their parents pay for with a second mortgage.
“We have, of late, we Americans, to our detriment come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We have come to see them as the point, and are happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality if we suspect that is a quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, to crow about.”
McCullough says he’s seen a real change in this generation. And he says it’s produced a group of teens and 20-somethings with an overpowering sense of entitlement.
Those of us who were not “special” still have managed to make it through life without therapy.
My mother had her own saying: “You think who the hell you are!”
I knew what she meant, but would sometimes try to explain the many grammatical problems with the sentence. For that, I was singled out for special treatment.
Good luck to the class of 2012!