A graduation speech by a Boston-area high school teacher has taken the internet by storm. In it, he claims today's graduates "are not special." This speech has taken Twitter by storm. But is he right?
This English teacher, David McCullough Jr. from Wellesley High, told the graduating class that "You are not special. You are not exceptional," according to Pueng Vongs from "The Lookout." He went on to cite how many seniors there are this year, how many valedictorians, class presidents, harmonizing altos, swaggering jocks OK, you get the picture. We're not unique.
At this point, a little perspective isn't bad. I usually point out to college students that there are plenty of exceptional high school students in college, and the next step is to figure out how to be an exceptional college student.
But then, McCullough goes on to rub it in: "You've been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble wrapped feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless We have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement."
Aha! Once again, amidst our many political, economic and social problems, we've had someone identify the root of all evil: the old "everybody gets a trophy" attack upon meritocracy.
Nobody should be guiltier than yours truly. After all, my daughter read a lot of books at school, and got a reading certificate for doing so, like many others at the school. And my son played tee-ball somewhere between pure joy and reckless abandon and got a trophy. And yeah, I posted the pictures I took with my cell phone camera on Facebook
To be perfectly honest, I didn't know either award would be given beforehand, but I failed to hurl them into the trash and lecture the kids about what real achievement is, or how in my day no one on our team got a trophy when we played for the El Paso YMCA soccer league's hapless "Pythons" team, winning only one game, tying one and losing the other eight.
McCullough admitted he's guilty of a lot of what he condemns other parents for doing. It's an important lesson, kids. Your parents think you're special. Most other parents don't think so. They'll also rip you publicly, while doing something else privately.
If McCullough is on target about something, maybe it's the line about accolades vs. achievement.
My son proudly held his trophy aloft for about five seconds, then went on to do something else. He also seemed to relish when my wife or I or my dad pitched to him, instead of hitting the ball off the tee. Even though he swings and misses more often when pitched to, he grins and digs in, smiling at the prospect of making contact like his heroes Martin Prado, Jason Heyward and Brian McCann do in Atlanta Braves games.
As for Valerie, she doesn't know where her reading certificate got to. She's not even that interested in the Six Flags prize, as it might interrupt her busy reading schedule.
So perhaps McCullough is right about something. Focus more upon the continued achievement than the award itself.
John A. Tures, associate professor of political science, LaGrange College; firstname.lastname@example.org.