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You’re Not Special

Here’s a new one in the annals of commencement speakers. David McCullough Jr., an English teacher at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts,  recently gave his address to the Class of 2012. In his refreshing speech, he persuasively reminded the graduates that “You’re Not Special.”

I really encourage you to take twelve minutes and listen to this provocative speech.

Highlights of the speech:

Each of you is dressed, you’ll notice, exactly the same. And your diploma… but for your name, exactly the same…All of this is as it should be, because none of you is special…

You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. 

No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it… Now it’s “So what does this get me?”

If you’ve learned anything in your years here I hope it’s that education should be for, rather than material advantage, the exhilaration of learning.

Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction.

Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it. Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Love everything you love,everyone you love, with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer; and as surely as there are commencements there are cessations..

Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.

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 enjoyed this speech. So did my first year law school son, who has sat through his fair share of commencement parlances.  This speech has rich nuggets of wisdom and truth –  but I believe that it’s still missing the mark.

This generation of graduates is growing up like all other generations of graduates – believing lies.  Our North American culture continues to spit out puffed up and foolish high school and university graduates who, as Mr. McCullough says, believe that they are special, in and of themselves and their accomplishments. They lose sight of the brevity of life and the meaninglessness of a legacy based on accomplishments, rather than character.
 I believe that we are all sinners and if left to our own devices, will live day-to-day lives of quiet desperation, without hope. Our fleeting lives will be spotted with worthy “when I grow up” aspirations and some success stories but we will be lost. This speaker makes no mention of a Christian world view but he certainly moves these graduates to ponder the direction of their lives.
What I really appreciated about David McCullough’s words is that he truly emphasizes the importance of the journey, rather than the destiny. He warns against the emptiness of a “What’s in it for me?” world view and implores these graduates to live and love intensely and intently. He reminds the audience that all people are worthy of our attention and respect, not just the rich and the famous, nor the people who are perceived as being able to do something for us. Instead, we are to ever mindful of what we can do for others.
Life is about pursuing “because you can and should live not merely once, but every day of your life.”

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