May 15, 2014

Famous Graduation Speech: "You Are Not Special"

"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 … But do not get the idea you're anything special. Because you're not,' remarked David McCulloughJr. in his 2012 commencement speech at Wellesley High School. A father of four, as well as a high school English teacher for 26 years, he is a self-proclaimed "vanilla kind of guy." With smoldering good looks, he has a tweedy leaning (though I couldn't see from my seat at Wilton Library whether his blazer had suede elbows) and for those wondering, yes, he is the son of Pullitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, whose mellifluous voice in literature and Ken Burns' documentaries has helped bring the past to life.

When McCullough, Jr.'s 12-minute "You Are Not Special" speech went viral, his quiet life changed overnight. He was courted by media from around the world -- CNN, NBC Nightly News, CBS This Morning -- got a book deal, became a YouTube sensation and limousines started showing up in his driveway. His new book, You Are Not Special: and Other Encouragements, hits resounding points worth sharing. Essentially, the "Special-ness Syndrome" and over-coddling does not help children as they take the tricky path from childhood to adulthood.

  • Teach your children to climb the plum tree. Don't give them stepladders. 
  • Don't deny them to think for themselves. (And with summer coming, give them a chance to just kick a can down the road and think, read, daydream.) 
  • Kids are required to specialize earlier and earlier in life. They claim to be dancers, fencers, soccer players, etc. and often have regimented schedules for after-school rehearsals, classes and sports practice. Is there a diminishing of curiosity to try other things if they are so focused at a young age? 
Passion is caught, not taught. Give your kids space to experiment, flourish, and yes, possibly fail. Let them feel like they are in charge.

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