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A Commentary on the “You Are Not Special” Commencement Speech
I have always told you how special our children are. I have always suggested that we tell our children how special they are and treat them as such. I have always talked about the importance of explaining to our children that we love them no matter what they do, even if they misbehave or make a wrong decision. Not long ago, there was a commencement speech that went viral. An English teacher, David McCullough Jr. told a Boston graduation class, over and over, that they were not special. And I believe he made a number of valid points. If you haven’t already heard this speech, I have included it here. For those of you receiving this blog post via email, please click here.
He was not meaning to criticize these students. He discussed the fact, though, that children are coddled and cared for and told they are special and awarded trophies for simply participating in events, mentioning that this practice has become so rampant that many awards are becoming meaningless. He believes that some of us overstate our importance and do the same with our children, possibly due to the ‘fear of our own insignificance.’
On his observation of what is going on these days, I am in full agreement. I can tell you that whenever my daughter, Paige was given an award for participation, she ensured it never received a place on her trophy shelf. I remember her missing the last few soccer games of the season one year and her coach calling us to say that he had a trophy for Paige that he wanted us to pick up. Paige didn’t want us to pick it up. This was due to her own thinking, nothing we had taught her; she was only 6 years old.
I don’t believe we need to criticize our children or ever point out that they didn’t do a good job at something. But when they do poorly, we cannot tell them they did great! I am never a proponent of lying about a child’s abilities or contribution and neither is our child. If they do know the truth or later find out the truth, our child will not view us in a favourable light. Even if they don’t find out the truth, we are not doing our child any service complimenting them when, instead, we could be helping them hone their skills, so that they can contribute their real talents to the world.
The English teacher talked about the fact that many kids these days do things for the prize or the accolades at the end. He prefers that we do things to challenge ourselves, to learn, to grow or for pure enjoyment. He said, “We now enjoy accolades more than genuine achievements.” And he talked about us being okay with compromising our standards in order to climb higher on the social totem pole. As a consequence of the “What does this get me?” mindset, he said “We have cheapened worthy endeavours.” He told the class to “Climb the mountain so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.” He told them to do something for the exhilaration of learning and because ‘you love doing it or you believe in its importance’. He reminded us that “the relevant life is an achievement.”
I hope that you will take the time to listen to David McCullough’s full speech and to share it with others to watch, as well. Interestingly enough, the achievement of David’s speech, alone, made his life more than relevant.
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