Downer Commencement Speaker: 'You Are Not Special. You Are Not Exceptional.'
A teacher at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts gave what may be the most depressing commencement speech ever, reminding graduating seniors that they're not nearly as special as they think they are.
English teacher David McCullough, Jr. was speaking out against the pampering of students. When everyone is validated for their achievements, no matter how small, they grow up with a false sense of superiority.
Well, that's what he was trying to say. He kind of just sounded like a dick.
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.
Hey. You leave Mister Rogers out of this.
The point, "If everyone is special, then no one is" makes sense, lamentably. But chiding graduates for how well they've been treated over the years feels a little unfair.
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.
To which one might say, in true surly teenager fashion, "I didn't ask to be born."
McCullough went on to encourage graduates to do the very best they can to be exceptional — even going so far as to cite "YOLO," which should be banned from all graduation speeches henceforth. And to that, many would agree. There's nothing wrong with glancing around, realizing everyone else has his or her own accomplishments, and striving to be better for it.
On the other hand, sending students into a shitty economy with limited job prospects is hard enough as it is. A final reminder that they're all completely average might inspire more giving up than excelling.