Dressed in graduation robes, the class of 2012 at Wellesley High School, in a wealthy and elite nook of suburban Massachusetts, sat in their seats listening to their English teacher tell them what they didn’t want to hear: “You’re not special,” David McCullough Jr. told them. “Astrophysicists assure us the universe has no center; therefore, you cannot be it.”
And with that, kids whose high school brought us Sylvia Plath and Biz Stone were about to be taken down a peg or three.
“You’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped,” he told the affluent audience of future college campus overachievers. “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. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have. And, certainly, we’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs.”
“Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet. … But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.”
“[We] come to love accolades more than genuine achievement,” McCullough said. “We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards … if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole.”
He also advised against making trendy “bucket” lists. “Go to Paris to be in Paris,” he snarked, “not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly.”
“Selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself,” McCullough concluded. “The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is.”
The Huffington Post reported that the hip teacher is fond of making newsworthy commencement speeches. In 2006 he told the graduating class to “carpe the heck out of every diem.”