You know what? He was right. Don’t get me wrong, everyone is special in some way, but graduating from high school does not make someone special.
In his commencement speech, English teacher, David McCullough Jr., told the graduating seniors, “You are not special. You are not exceptional.” I heard similar statements from friends and family when I graduated from high school.
A few days before my high school graduation, my friend told me that it wasn’t a big deal. I thought, “No way! Graduating from high school is huge, because you only get to do it once.” Now that more than a decade has passed since that conversation, I think we were both right.
High school graduation is something that should be celebrated, but it should also be put in context. Millions of kids graduate from high school each year, and in that regard, the accomplishment isn’t that special. Imagine the progress that would be made if students decided that graduating from high school was the apex of their lifetime achievements?
Graduating students need to understand that this is just the beginning of their journey, it’s just the start of what can set them apart and contribute to making them special. It doesn’t matter if the student goes on to college or decides to take another route in life, so long as the student eventually masters a skill.
On my first day of law school, all the first years were gathered together into one giant room and were praised by the law school’s administration and faculty. We were told that we were the future leaders of the country, and that we were in the top three-percent of all students. Even before law school, many of the students had been praised by family and friends for months leading up to the first day of law school.
Did that make us special? Sure, in some ways, but it didn’t make us any more special than the truckers I worked with in the oil field who had mastered their craft, or the nurses who helped deliver Addie and Vivi.
I don’t think the law school’s administrators and faculty did us any favors by praising us the way they did. We were all warned before entering law school that half of the top twenty-percent of the class would be able to get hired by a big law firm and make really good money. That meant that ninety-percent of the class was going to struggle to find jobs and make a fairly modest salary. However, from all the praise the students had received from the school and their family members, ninety-percent of the class believed they were a lock for the top twenty-percent. Needless to say, there were a lot of very disappointed law students when the first class rankings were released after the first semester of law school. Turns out, not everyone was considered special on that sheet of class rankings.
This doesn’t mean that graduating students shouldn’t enjoy their moment. After all, millions of students enjoyed their moment in previous years—including that Boston-area high school teacher.
And that’s where the high school teacher got it wrong. While graduating from high school doesn’t make these students particularly special for that one accomplishment, it was their day and that type of speech should have been made well before graduation.
To be fair to that teacher, his speech was very well received by those in attendance and he did conclude his speech by stating, “The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is.”
More on Dadding: