That was the message give by David McCullough Jr., a Boston-area English teacher, to the graduating class of Wellesley High.
And he was right.
The point he was trying to make to the graduates, as they sat in matching, formless robes with matching diplomas, that all the accolades and awards growing up are meaningless if everyone else has gotten one. He continued to say, “You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. … We have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.”
He added: “Even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you.”
The point he made in his commencement speech was about going out into the world and live their lives to their fullest, without looking for the accolades.
To resist the easy comforts of complacency. To dream big and think for yourself.
Instead of ‘You only live once’ it should be ‘You live only once’.
McCullough’s address does push students to recognize real achievement: “The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life is an achievement,” and he encourages graduates “to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance.”
His message also was about being selfless, exercising free will and independent thought. And making for themselves extraordinary lives.
I think everyone should listen to this speech over and over, regardless of where you are in your life.. as it has a lot of great advice and makes a LOT of sense. It is inspiring and thought provoking.. and I wish I’d heard it when I was graduating high school 20 years ago (oh man.. has it been 20 years already??).
In a day and age where parents are more concerned about a child’s self-esteem and confidence instead of their abilities to learn (I read somewhere that the US ranks around 28th in the world in math and science achievement but rank #1 in “self-esteem”), society needs to stop awarding people even when they fail. It seems like you can get an award for anything these days.
Personally I think parents need to show their children that they’re special to them, but that the child needs to earn their place in the world. That there are no free rides in life, and that regardless of how well you’ve done previously, you still need to continually earn respect as you move forward in the world.
Today’s youth (and I can’t believe how old that made me feel writing that…) have a sense of entitlement, and are more concerned with their social status, having the coolest electronic gear, or how to get rich and famous. They’re looking for the easy way out.
I actually recently overheard a young guy on the train to work say to his mate that he was so tired and didn’t know how he could work full-time for the rest of his life, and that he needed to get famous… and his mate, shocked, said to him, ‘You haven’t even been working for a year yet!’
I think that kind of says it all.