Journeys with Julie- “You’re Not Special” Speech

As graduation season comes to a close, the videos of various commencement speeches made by famous celebrities begin to circulate the internet. This year, such names as Aaron Sorkin, Mayor Bloomberg, Barack Obama and even Jane Lynch were amongst the most viewed commencement videos on YouTube. But, what caught my attention this year was not a celebrity, but a little known teacher from Wellesley High School. His name is David McCullough, Jr. and his message was one that differed greatly from the ones you often hear on graduation day.

Within the first minutes of his speech to the graduating class of Wellesley, McCullough says to them that none of them are special. Despite what they’re “U9 soccer trophies suggest […] they’re glowing seventh grade report card [or] Mr. Rogers…” they are not special.” It seems harsh at first, even mean considering that it is their graduation day and one that should be a reflection of their accomplishments for the last 12 years, but McCullough’s message went beyond the ordinary speech that fluffed egos and reminded students to seize the day. Instead of something graduates would soon forget, McCullough wanted to leave them with something useful. He wanted his speech to be about kids’ jaded notions of success and greatness. He argues that, in this day and age, when Americans have “come to love accolades more than genuine achievement,” kids have become more focused on the promise of an award than the task itself. This, ultimately, leads to a culture of stressed out students who are often compromising their morals and integrity to be #1. As he says in an NBC interview, “ Kids are so pressured to succeed that they’ll do anything not to fail. It’s really not the success they want, they want to abandon failure.”

So, if one is to get past the harsh notion of telling students they are not special, what McCullough’s message was really about was his hope for graduates to do what they love in life and resist the urge for complacency, striving for selflessness and happiness above all else.  As he reminds them, “The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer […] Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct.  It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things.”

For more on McCullough’s speech or to read the transcript, here are the links:

-Julie Wagenblast
Lead Her Intern, Campus Calm™

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