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David McCullough defends 'you’re not special' speech; we agree (+video)

David McCullough defends the ‘you’re not special' speech he gave at Wellesley High School last week. The English teacher addresses the current ‘everyone is special’ plague that is not helping students, parents or employers.

By / June 12, 2012

David McCullough defends his ‘you’re not special' graduation speech, a refreshing, honest look at the ‘everyone is special’ plague. Here, Tarah Thesenvitz looks for her family from backstage before she and fellow South Kitsap High School graduates walk during their commencement ceremony at the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Wash., on June 8, 2012.

Meegan M. Reid/Kitsap Sun/AP


Last week, we wrote about an English teacher named David McCullough who gave an unusual commencement speech for students graduating from his Wellesley, Mass., high school. It has become known on the Internet as the “you’re not special” speech because that’s one of the main tips McCullough passed along to the class of 2012.

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is a longtime Monitor correspondent. She lives in Andover, Mass. with her husband, her two young daughters, a South African Labrador retriever and an imperialist cat..

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Graduation speeches usually touch the great things graduates will do with their lives. But some speakers, like David McCullough Jr., are giving graduates a dose of reality instead. McCullough speaks to Charlie Rose and Erica Hill about his controversial speech.

“And now you’ve conquered high school,” he said, “and, indisputably, here we all have gathered for you, the pride and joy of this fine community, the first to emerge from that magnificent new building... But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.”

Yesterday, McCullough (son of the famed historian of the same name) went on television to defend his message.

“My intention was a little hyperbolic drollness to get their attention so they would be paying attention by the end when I told them what I really wanted,” McCullough told CBS news.

Indeed, check out some of McCullough’s closing words:

“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.”

I admit to being a bit surprised that McCullough felt he needed a defense at all. His words were refreshing, honest and beautiful.  (Except for a few unnecessary digs at my Baltimore Orioles.)

And they were timely.

Because, as the overwhelmingly positive reaction to McCullough’s speech shows, we are in the midst of an “everyone is special” plague; one that is not doing any favors for kids, their parents or their future employers.

(Note to the graduate here:  At your first job interview, don’t tell the boss that you’d like to be in her shoes in three years.  Or that you’re not the ‘office kind of person.’ Really.)


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