"You are not special"
The Greatest High School Commencement Speech Of All Time.
English teacher David McCullough addresses the Class of 2012 at Wellesley High School
Our school just had it’s first graduation and while it went well and there was a lot to celebrate, knowing how the sausage is made from my position there; all i really wanted was some truth. Here is the truth I was looking for.
You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another–which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality — 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 we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole. 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?”
This is what irks me about education and student attitudes today. It’s more like this game between us and the students and not an exchange of ideas, concepts, and problems to wrestle with. I always loved school because I could commune with different sources of information and map out how they all fit together in my head, and later in my life. I think the educators are just as guilty. The urge to say everything is fine and everyone made it ignores what we actually accomplished as well as what we need to strive for.
I love the benediction of his speech as well:
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. Because everyone is. Congratulations. Good luck. Make for yourselves, please, for your sake and for ours, extraordinary lives.