By now, you’ve probably heard about the graduation speech offered by David McCullough, an English teacher at Wellesley High School outside Boston.
It has become known as the “You’re Not Special” speech, thanks to a passage in which McCullough said the following:
“Contrary to what your soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh-grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader swooped in to save you ... you’re nothing special.
“Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. ... But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.”
Seemingly minutes after the ceremony, the speech went viral and moms and dads coast-to-coast were offended, as was a onetime presidential hopeful. “Astrophysicists assure us the universe has no center; therefore, you cannot be it,” McCullough said. “Neither can Donald Trump, which someone should tell him. Although that hair is quite a phenomenon.”
The parental response went something like this: “How dare you say my child is not special? Why, you haven’t even met Dylan/Cassidy/McKenzie/Jackson/Chelsea.” True enough.
For an English teacher, McCullough, son of historian David McCullough, knows his math.
“Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools,” he said. “That’s 37,000 valedictorians ... 37,000 class presidents ... 92,000 harmonizing altos ... 340,000 swaggering jocks ... 2,185,9867 pairs of Uggs.”
Perhaps what McCullough was attempting to do was help the graduates understand that the real world is not as forgiving as the cocoon in which they have been living. It is tough out there.
We are all for building self-esteem in children, at home, at school, at church, at the multicolor ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese’s. We just wish it could all happen more privately. (We live in a world in which a child who refrains from flinging his restaurant meal off the table is rewarded with a boisterous “Good job!”)
We look back fondly on the days when America’s parents had more humility and less braggadocio about the achievements of their spawn.
And we are positively wistful for the days when the word “amazing” was reserved for a parting of the Red Sea or footsteps on the Sea of Tranquility.