While I do believe David McCollough Jr., an English teacher at Wellesley High School in Wellesley, Massachusetts, meant well, I feel he made a much too ambiguously bold speech to high school students at such a ceremonious occasion, leaving a bunch of anxious teenage children bamboozled at a moment that should have been quite joyous for them.
Did McCullough cross the line or is he right? Are these students not special? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
At a quick glance, Mr. McCollough told the students that graduating does not make them special, and he went into details presenting figures that show how millions of students graduate from different schools across the country as evidence to prove to the students just how special they are not. He went on to scolding parents for collecting awards for their children's accomplishments and spoke about how students were “pampered... and called sweetie pie." He even voiced what I see as a contradiction, when he tells the students they should “do whatever (they) do for no reason other than (they) love it and believe in its importance." To me that’s actually what makes someone special, being an individual.
His statement basically says that being your own individual self is good, which in a dictionary, is defined as being special. Knowing that being you is being special, and it's okay is the very thing that encourages students to be creative, to not be afraid to do the opposite of the norm, to go those places no man has gone before. Feeling special allows students to dream those beautiful visions of colorful sparkles, rainbows, shooting stars, and the unthinkable that they manage to pencil in on art paper.
There are very few high schools with a 100 percent graduation rate. Graduating from anywhere should make anyone feel special. Graduating does not earn one a team trophy. It is an individual accomplishment, a special accomplishment. Every one of us is special in our own individual way. What one may personally achieve, someone else may not. What someone else may specially achieve another may not possibly fathom.
Some students graduate as the first in their families, and they may feel special. No one can dictate what should make someone special in life. However, it was said that many attendees applauded Mr. McCollough’s speech, but I couldn’t help but be in the seat of one of the students who almost felt good about herself, while the graduating student’s moment becomes recognition for Mr. McCollough and his grandiloquent commencement speech which ironically speaks about not being seen from the mountain. And I could sense the other graduates filled with anxiety and thinking about what they might do after the graduation as their eyes roam the room, now they vaguely see glimpses of Mr. McCollough as he speaks, and can only recall his initial words. "You are not special."
I tell all my students they are special and that being special is what makes them who they are. No two people are created with the same background, situations, and experiences that help mold them into their individual being. There are no two exact people on this planet. None of us have the answers to life. If feeling special is what brings out the best in us, then so let it be. If there was a survey done on prisoners, I’ll bet that at least 90 percent of them would say they never heard they were special, maybe until they received interventions while incarcerated.
Students don’t need teachers to lower their self-esteem; society will do its best at it. The actual challenge for students will be being that special person they were meant to be despite distractions of the world. As a teacher, I will tell my students to climb the mountain if they so desire, because it takes a special person to do it, to enjoy the thrill of the climb as they see the world, but to be sure they let the world see them, so others believe that they can do it too, to win because it takes special effort and to spread to others their triumphing testimony to help them achieve their extraordinary goals.
I tell my own children that they are special to me, and I would never announce publically to a group of students, whose only opportunity to feel special may be during their high school graduation, that they "are not special".
The fact of the matter is that it is natural for all of us to want to feel special. People plague themselves with material things as attempts to feel special, people go to high levels to seek attention to fill that void of not feeling special, some through how they treat others, how they dress, how they make up themselves, and sometimes even their life styles. Children act out because they want to feel special. People even commit crimes to be seen on TV, which I must add is so very sad, yet a perfect example of how deeply people yearn to stand out from the rest.
For I understand the numerous amounts of disadvantages students of different backgrounds face, whether these range from nuisances that affect educational abilities, poor parental care which comes from various household incomes, poverty, personal struggles, and peer pressures. We don’t know what goes on inside the homes or inside the students. Maybe Mr. McCollough doesn't realize that American college students are already on high with rates of depression and anxiety. How special is that?
If that one day comes where any child gets to smile, and feel that he or she is someone special during any occasion, I don’t want to be the one to steal that joy. Telling a child “you are not special because everyone is” most likely will not resonate the way it might have been meant to. With children, we have to be careful. Besides, we adults are very familiar with those lessons in life we had to learn through experience, those lessons that could have been preached but never taught to us.
Telling students “they are not special” is far from fixing America’s problems. If there is one thing I needed to say about being special to graduating high school students during such a momentous moment, it would be, “you are special, but being special doesn’t mean you are better… it means you are being the best YOU, you can be regardless." I’m sure they could understand and appreciate that.
God gifted us all in a special way (1 Corinthians 12).