What’s So Special About Wellesley’s “Not So Special Speech?”

Teacher David McCullough gives a dose of reality to graduating students at Wellesley High School. His “You Are Not So Special” speech has gone viral, especially amongst our youth. I really like McCullough’s wisdom. Is this a bitter pill to hand out during such a festive celebration? Perhaps, it is. But, McCullough is speaking to us as psychological and spiritual beings. “Yes (he says to graduating students), you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, fed, nurtured, and bubble-wrapped; but, do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not. By definition there can be only one best. You’re it or you’re not. 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. Wisdom is the chief element of happiness.”

McCullough isn’t telling our youth to stop aspiring to do well in life or that there is nothing special about their talents and abilities. He’s saying, it is tough out there. If you value what you are learning more than what you get, you won’t be disappointed when some things don’t turn out for you. Also, he wants our youth to know that a lot of what happens to any of us is determined by the time in which we live. Yes, you may be smart and talented, but you are also a person living in a special time in history that influences your goals and what you can achieve.

Dr. Deborah’s Wisdom for the Week:

There’s an additional point that McCullough touches upon that speaks to my heart. There’s deep value to feeling like we are all the same, at our core, no matter the talents, capabilities and backgrounds that distinguish us from each other. The best of education is its potential to humanize us, so that we deepen as human beings. We cheat ourselves out of the understandings that make us better human beings, when we court experiences that separate rather than connect us to each other.

I recall a time in my young life (around 24 years old) when I was in downtown, Winnetka, Illinois watching the fourth of July parade with a friend. The scene looked much like a Norman Rockwell painting. The townspeople lined up side-by-side in their lawn chairs waiting for the parade to pass by. I turned to my friend Jennifer and said: “Shoot me please, if I ever become one of those people.” Living an everyday life felt too stifling to me. But, life set out to deepen my understanding, as it does for all of us. In the coming years, I had suffered personal setbacks that, in some ways, wore me down, but also reshaped my perceptions and understandings. All of these lessons were grist for the mill of my personal growth. Thank goodness, I stayed present to wisdom contained in these life lessons. In particular, one piece of wisdom stood out for me. To appreciate the minds and hearts of others, you must find the ways in which you are like them.

I never forgot what I said that July 4th day. It’s as if my mind kept it on hold for me, as a powerful reference point of meaning and personal change. Today, I love the moment and value the experiences that show me my connectedness to others.

The only thing that living really guarantees us is the right to learn and grow. If you like my post today, please say so by selecting the Like button below. I welcome your thoughts, as always. Warmly Deborah.

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