Teacher's graduation speech to students: You're not special

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At a recent high school graduation, an English teacher gave a speech to the seniors that got a lot of people talking after he told them that they are not special. Photo via jussstas at SXC Photo

A Boston-area English teacher gave a speech at a recent high school graduation that has many people talking.

Wellesley High teacher David McCullough Jr. gave the graduating class an earful about their lack of specialness that targeted what it would appear he considered the failures of modern parenting.

The speech began with thanking the class for allowing him to speak at “life’s great forward-looking ceremony” – followed by a side rant about the insufficient effectiveness of weddings.

He then told the “pampered, cosseted and doted upon” graduating class how they are each just one person on a planet with 6.8 billion people and therefore not as special as they have been led to believe.


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! 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.

The teacher went on to tell the seniors,  “You see, if everyone is special, then no one is.  If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless,” he said.  “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,” the teacher told the graduating students.

The teacher told the students to do what they love because they believe in the importance of it and that living a fulfilling and relevant life is an achievement and “‘not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it.”

You can read the entire speech at the Boston Herald.

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  • spacetaxi

    I disagree with the premise that if everyone is special that no one is special.  Every person really is unique.  It just doesn’t entitle them to special *treatment*.

    • Leewan

      What makes everyone special? And no not everyone is really unique. What makes everyone unique is they are a combination of traits, each individual trait probably shared by thousands of other people.
      The speech is about self entitlement and the belief that your existence proves you are special.

      What do you even define special as? If everyone is special in their own way athen is everyone special enough to be entitled to things without working?

      Unique and special are not the same thing

  • Alex Kimball

    This entire article is a waste of time.  Quite ironic given the context of the man’s speech.  90% of the text in the article is just telling the reader what was said.  Why not just show a link to the speech itself?   You just quoted him over and over again.  What good is that?  Why not dare to give some personal reaction, or some kind of added insight?  Are you not a writer, ma’am?  Have you no vigor and fortitude of your own?  Or are you merely here to give us a play-by-play report on those who are pursuing more meaningful endeavors?  Take this man’s advice to heart and make an effort at least.

    • spacetaxi

      I think this was supposed to be an unbiased report of the facts, not an opinion piece/editorial.

  • tdog111

    Way to go Mr McCullough. You nailed it. What you said is the absolute truth and kids need to hear it and understand it.

  • tdog111

     You can read the entire speech at the Boston Herald