Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"You're Nothing Special"

There seems to be some outrage about a recent speech at a high school graduation.  David McCullough Jr., teaches at Wellesley High School, which is near Boston.  During their commencement exercise he told the graduating class they’re “nothing special”.  He told them there are 37,000 high schools all with valedictorians, class presidents and jocks.

McCullough went on to say “We have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.”  McCullough told the students real achievement is doing something you love and believe in its importance.

Now he’s being criticized for his words by some.  Those who worry about the students’ “self esteem”  are saying McCullough shouldn’t be saying things like this to graduating students.  Apparently they should instead be praised and told that the world is theirs.

In this day and age where schools are doing away with grades and won’t tell a student he/she is failing, in a day where organized sports are doing away with winners and losers to prevent kids from “feeling bad about themselves”, it’s about time someone told kids the truth. 

Real life isn’t fair.  Real life doesn’t play favorites nor does it give you as much time as you wish to do what needs to be done.  Unless you open and operate your own business right out of high school, you will have a boss who will expect things from you, on deadline, and if you can’t (or won’t) meet those deadlines you won’t have a job any longer.  The boss won’t care about your self-esteem and neither will the company you work for.

There will be winners and losers in real life.  The winners will be successful, well paid and sought after by employers.  They may even open their own businesses and be successful at being their own boss.  They’ll do it with discipline, hard work and self-sacrifice.  But they’ll do it.  And when something doesn’t work out for them the way they want it, instead of whining and blaming someone else they’ll learn a lesson and move on to the next phase.

The losers will expect things to be handed to them.  When something doesn’t work out in their favor they will blame their parents, society, the boss or company that didn’t give them what they wanted, or something/someone other than the fact that they simply didn’t put enough effort into what they needed to accomplish.  They’ll get fired from jobs and instead of deciding to push forward and find another, better job and invest themselves in it, they’ll complain, collect unemployment and continue believing the world owes them a living.  And yes, their self-esteem will be lowered.  And rightfully so.

There’s an old saying that fits here…  “You are unique – just like everyone else.”

Kids today need to understand the realities of life.  Playing Little League baseball or Pee Wee football without winners and losers teach kids the team concept but doesn’t teach them how to deal with reality.  In the real world not everyone wins, at least not every time.  In the real world you have to deal with people who beat you at certain things.  There will be times, if you apply yourself, when you will be the winner.  How do you become a winner who maintains humility if you never got the chance to learn that?

As I said earlier, in the real world you’ll have bosses and deadlines.  If you are taught in school that deadlines are not important and that your work will not be graded accordingly, how are you going to deal with it when your boss returns something you completed and says it’s incorrect and/or needs to be redone?  How are you going to deal with it when you don’t get that bonus or promotion because you simply don’t deserve it? 

More and more often today, kids aren’t being taught the real consequences of their actions (or inactions.)  They need more teachers like Mr. McCullough, who will be honest with them and prepare them for the real world.  Parents and students alike should be thanking Mr. McCullough for his commencement speech.  The video has been viewed over half a million times.  It should be required viewing for next year’s senior class.

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