Cap and gown season has arrived and high school seniors across the country are listening to commencement speeches, collecting their diplomas, and heading out for ice cream sundaes to celebrate. (I have toddlers, leave me my illusions.) English teacher David McCullough, Jr., created a national stir when he admonished Wellesley High graduates in Massachusetts at their May commencement: “You are not special. You are not exceptional.”
WHAT? Stop the bus. Each and every child in the universe is a precious little snowflake. No two alike. Song interlude, sing it with me.
“My mama told me when I was young
We are all born superstars.”
Thank you, Lady Gaga. Besides, even if they’re not all that special, some graduates are a little more well known than others.
Justin Bieber earned his diploma in early May and matriculated in a special ceremony engineered by Ellen Degeneres. No one can deny that his hat was special because his hair is special. I only mildly mock. Only Ellen could get the teenager of the century to wear a hat on a stick. Props to Justin too, he really is brilliantly good-natured.
With Bruce Willis and older sisters Scout and Rumer attending, Tallulah Willis also graduated from high school on Thursday June 7. Congratulations!
Her mom, Demi, who recently graduated from rehab herself, was there to cheer her daughter. She looks fabulous. I wish them all a peaceful, Ashton-free summer.
The Carrie Diaries star AnnaSophia Robb graduated from Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado this year. She deferred her acceptance to Stanford University to focus on her acting.
Justin Combs, oldest son of Sean “Diddy” Combs, graduated from high school on May 24th. His father, Sean, and his mother, Misa Hylton, celebrated with Justin. Justin will attend UCLA next year and play football for the school’s team.
So what do you think? Are they special? I’ll take a possibly unpopular stance and agree with Dave McCullough, Jr. He based his assertion on cold, hard numbers. “Across the country,” Dave said in his “You’re not special” address, “no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. … But why limit ourselves to high school? After all, you’re leaving it. So think about this: even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you.”
Huh. No one has hair like the Bieb, Dave, NO ONE.
I know. I have kids. Children are special little snowflakes, each and every one, to the doting parents that raised them. But I have to admit that when you put a million perfect, crystallized snowflakes together, you get a blizzard. They’re damn cute, but they’re not all that. One of the smartest thing I ever heard said about raising children was that our job is to teach them to hold two stones in their hand simultaneously, one that says ‘you’re nothing special’ and the other that tells them that they are the most special child in the world … to their parents.
Dave has a point. If we teach our kids that they are special and wonderful and SO. AWESOME. just for existing, then what does the definition of achievement become? As education systems across the country begin to question the value of empty praise and researchers recognize a growing problem with teaching children that everything should come to them easily, I have to wonder if we’d all be better off if we were a little less special.
Back to Dave: “The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer.” I’d like to order my kids’ success from a menu of “happy lives, preferably with financial stability and maybe a child or two some day,” but I know that’s most likely not the way it works and I like Dave’s conclusion.
After exhorting his graduates to do good in the world for others, he told them that “[t]he sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is.”
What do you think? I think it’s a message to live by. Congratulations, graduates.