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David McCullough: Wellesley teacher says grads 'not special' (+video)

David McCullough, Wellesley High English teacher, slices and dices teen exceptionalism. 'You’re not special,' he says, 'Your planet ... is not the center of its solar system, your solar system is not the center of its galaxy, your galaxy is not the center of the universe.'

By / June 8, 2012


Commencement speeches often extoll graduates as the new hope for the future, celebrating their achievements and telling them that they can change the world.

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David McCullough, Wellesley High English teacher, took a different approach as commencement speaker. “You’re not special,” he tells the crowd of graduating seniors. "Contrary to what your soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers, and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special."

He went on to tell the students that statistics are stacked up against them.

"Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That’s 37,000 valedictorians… 37,000 class presidents… 92,000 harmonizing altos… 340,000 swaggering jocks… 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs."

The crowd laughed frequently throughout his address, applauding its irony and call to students to find real purpose in their lives.

"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. You’ll note the Founding Fathers took pains to secure your inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – quite an active verb, “pursuit” – which leaves, I should think, little time for lying around watching parrots rollerskate on YouTube." 

But do watch the YouTube video above to hear his entire speech.

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