Class of 2012: McCullough's Right, You're Not Special - But Don't Let That Stop You
In the aftermath of a speech given to a high school graduating class, here's hoping the message isn't completely lost, and that students strive to achieve not for praise, but to make a difference.
It's been two weeks since David McCullough, Jr., English teacher and son of historian and author David McCullough, told graduates at Wellesley High School in Boston, "you're not special."
After early reaction, which ranged from 'how dare he' to 'go get 'em, McCullough', there's a key point that hopefully everyone has discovered in the commencement address, and it's my wish as well for students graduating this year, and really any year.
The point was not to belittle students for who they are, or what they had done in high school, nor was it an attempt to knock them down a few pegs from an embittered staff member. Rather, McCullough was the Simon Cowell of commencement speakers, presenting sober and real truth: being popular or a straight-A student in high school is nice, but the rest of the world won't care.
"I wanted to emphasize for them that though you may have been the valedictorian, though you may have been a touchdown hero, that doesn’t make you a more important person," McCullough told a Boston public radio station. "And when I sit and I look at my students in my classroom, each one of them is as important to me as any of the others."
Therefore, dear graduates, accept my congratulations for achieving your high school diploma, but realize that it's just the most basic of markers as you make your way into the world. It is always the journey that is more important than the destination, and the struggle that is what will shape your character, hopefully for the better (and that will be your choice) - rather than the triumph.
We parents love to praise, but that's what parents do, in hopes of encouraging even greater things from our kids. However, as kids grow into adults it's less about the praise than your impact on the people you meet. In short, it's not about you, and that's the beauty of it. The more you focus on others and real growth and achievement, the more special you really do become.
So make your mark, but don't wear it like a crown, and as McCullough stated in his speech, "don't climb the mountain so the world can see you; climb the mountain so you can see the world." Godspeed, class of 2012.