Jun 07

You are not special. You are not exceptional.

Wellesley High School teacher David McCullough had apparently had enough of feeding blithering platitudes to his students and decided to tell the truth.

Don’t get me started on this one… but I will say I agree wholeheartedly! You graduate from preschool you get a diploma, you graduate from First Grade you get a diploma, Sixth Grade, Eighth Grade etc… you get a diploma! Sports or Field Day you get a Trophy for just showing up, you don’t have to win, just show up and “Good job here’s a trophy!” Don’t keep score it might hart the losers tiny tender little feeling, turning both teams into a field of uniformed losers zero-zero. Oh but wait there’s more… you get certificate of achievement for just being  you, just for being alive, just for showing up for class. It’s ridiculous, it’s sad and pathetic!

See by the time a kid get to High School they’ve received so many certificate, diplomas, trophies and letters of achievement there is no sense of self-reward or real achievement when graduating High School, they already feel entitled! But yet society wonders why there is so many drop outs… the prize has been diminished to nothing, it’s just another piece of paper to put in a overflowing award box of mediocrity.

That’s not life, that’s not reality and that’s why we have so many little sniveling whiners occupying Wall Street with their hand out! Suck it up whiner and face the truth – you’re not entitled to a trophy just for being alive or doing your job.

Anyway before I ramble further… here’s David McCullough excellent commencement speech…

You are not special.  You are not exceptional.

Contrary to what your u9 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.

Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped.  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.  Why, maybe you’ve even had your picture in the Townsman!  [Editor's upgrade: Or The Swellesley Report!] And now you’ve conquered high school… 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.[...]

“But, Dave,” you cry, “Walt Whitman tells me I’m my own version of perfection!  Epictetus tells me I have the spark of Zeus!”  And I don’t disagree.  So that makes 6.8 billion examples of perfection, 6.8 billion sparks of Zeus.  You see, if everyone is special, then no one is.  If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless.  In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another-which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality – we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.  We have come to see them as the point – and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, 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.  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?”  As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans.  It’s an epidemic – and in its way, not even dear old Wellesley High is immune… one of the best of the 37,000 nationwide, Wellesley High School… where good is no longer good enough, where a B is the new C, and the midlevel curriculum is called Advanced College Placement.  And I hope you caught me when I said “one of the best.”  I said “one of the best” so we can feel better about ourselves, so we can bask in a little easy distinction, however vague and unverifiable, and count ourselves among the elite, whoever they might be, and enjoy a perceived leg up on the perceived competition.  But the phrase defies logic.  By definition there can be only one best.  You‘re it or you’re not.

Amen brother!

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