“You Are Not Special” commencement speech

by genspecial


Higher Authority on Specialness

This high school teacher, David McCullough Jr., has truly been reading our blog.

On June 7th, McCullough Jr., a Wellesley High English teacher, proclaimed to students:

“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.”

He even took our blog title!

Despite the fact, though, that he’s clearly been influenced by us, and the fact that he drags our dear Baltimore Orioles into a discussion on marriage  (“statistics tell us half of you will get divorced. A winning percentage like that’ll get you last place in the American League East (The Baltimore Orioles do better than weddings)” he none the less has given a remarkable speech.  He has taken the moment expected to be a high point of self-confidence and achievement, and stuck a needle in the balloon.  Among my favorite lines of McCullough’s, “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.”  These kids would be very wise to listen.  If only he had spoken at my graduation.  Wait a second–I spoke at my graduation!  And I told everyone we could be special so long as we stayed in the Zone…  I might have contributed to making us feel more special.

From Editor’s high school graduation speech, “The Zone”:

The zone is the state of mind where nothing else matters except the present.  You are completely alive in the zone, stripped of what [GDS improv/mime teacher] Andrea Oram would call the “coulda woulda shoulda.”  There is no “I should never have worn these socks,” or “If I had only stuck with my first  impression and gone to Harvey Mudd, everything would have been different,” or “I shoulda written about something else—this speech is really  lame.”  It is, in its purest form, an incredible natural rush, a feeling of success, confidence and satisfaction with the way life is.  Do you know that a baboon lives its whole life in the zone?  Sure—it can’t doubt what it did yesterday, or worry about how awkward its conversation is going, or think back to when it was in is prime—it’s far too “unintelligent.”….

We are all Hamlet, beating at the doors of the zone, but pushing ourselves farther away with each knock.  None of us knows exactly how to obtain the zone, but that doesn’t mean we won’t get there.  As I get older it becomes so much harder to get in the zone[1] but when you’re there, what a rush!  You are pitching, or playing the violin, or holding hands, or watching “Evita” or doing math, and you slip through the bounds of time into [James] Joyce’s horizontal universe.

[1] Wait till you’re past 30.

Ignoring the pretentious James Joyce reference for the moment, look at how I told everyone that as long as you can stay in the moment, you will live in that special Zone, and you will be joyous.  What about all the time when you’re not in the moment?  When you’re not feeling great about yourself?  When you can’t take a step without thinking, “Why did I choose that?”  “Why didn’t I go for that?” Why don’t I come through?” “Why is everyone else better than I am at this or at least more organized?” What do we do then?  David McCullough Jr., in his high school commencement address, takes on this issue.  David McCullough Jr., I bow to a higher authority.  I humble myself before thee!  Just as you say, I am not speeeeciallllll!