I’ve written a few times over the years about my loathing for commencement speeches. Like fruitcakes, there’s really only one of them, passed around from person to person with only minor variations. Most of all, they’re an exercise in blowing sunshine up the asses of graduates. But a teacher in Massachusetts finally gave a realistic commencement speech:
“You are not special. You are not exceptional,” David McCullough Jr. told graduating seniors from the affluent Massachusetts town last weekend.
The teacher’s controversial advice caught the nation’s eye, in an age where many believe today’s youth suffer from a sense of self-importance.
“Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped,” McCullough said in his speech. “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. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. … But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.”
Driving the point home, he added, “Think about this: 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.”
I would have gone even further. A truly realistic commencement speech, rather than telling them how incredibly special they are and how they’re going to change the world with their overwhelming talents and drive to succeed, would say something like this:
Most of you will live your lives with very little joy. You’ll marry someone you’re vaguely fond of at the time and then grow detached from them as you feel trapped in a boring, loveless marriage where you spend all of your time taking care of the kids you overvalue even more than your parents overvalued you. And you’re likely to work at a job you tolerate at best and hate at worst. The vast majority of you will live and die without ever having an original thought and the most important decisions will probably revolve around who to vote for on American Idol.
Yes, I’m that cynical. And yes, there are obviously exceptions. But I’m still right about most of them.