EDUCATION

David McCullough, Wellesley High School English Teacher, Tells Graduates: 'You're Not Special'

06/07/2012 10:09 am ET | Updated Jun 07, 2012

Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough may try to avoid clichés like the plague, but his unconventional message in his faculty speech to the Class of 2012 raised numerous eyebrows last Friday.

Instead of lauding the achievements of the graduating class — a popular tactic among commencement speakers — McCullough took the opportunity to remind the Wellesley, Ma. seniors that selflessness is the best personal quality to possess, and that “the sweetest joys of life … come only with the recognition that you’re not special, because everyone is.”

The full text comes courtesy of The Swellesley Report. Excerpt below:

“Here we are on a literal level playing field. That matters. That says something. And your ceremonial costume … shapeless, uniform, one-size-fits-all. Whether male or female, tall or short, scholar or slacker, spray-tanned prom queen or intergalactic X-Box assassin, 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 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.”

McCullough lamented the tendency of Americans as of late to “love accolades more than genuine achievement.”

“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.”


McCullough urged the Class of 2012 not to just do things for the sake of personal accomplishment or self-indulgence, but because “you love it and believe in its importance.”

This isn’t the first time McCullough’s commencement remarks have made news. In 2006, he was remembered for telling then-graduating Wellesley students to “carpe the heck out of every diem” — a signature line he alluded to in his 2012 address.

Contrarily, a student high school graduation speech -- a rap, rather -- was well received among peers and family when Samuel "Blowfish" Blyveis of St. Joseph High School elected rap tips on the best way to get through high school. A Reddit user even posted a link to the video with the caption: "Was your graduation speech this epic? Nope? Didn't think so."

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