Someone finally said it: “You are not special.”
Those are the words made famous last week by a straight-talking English teacher during a commencement speech for graduates of Wellesley High School in Massachusetts.
We believe the speaker wants students to pursue worthy endeavors, rather than live in unearned celebration of self.
“Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped,” said David McCullough, Jr., the son of Pulitzer prize-winning historian David McCullough. “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.”
After his speech, McCullough explained that he wanted to spare teenagers the disservice of sending them into the world with an “inflated sense of themselves.” He wanted them to realize that society will not continue to revolve around them for no particular reason.
Teenagers used to help with family businesses and farms. It was clear they were subordinate to adults. Today’s adults often come across as servants of children whom they lavish with celebrity-style birthday parties and holiday gift orgies.
In a properly ordered society, we don’t honor and reward the mere existence of young adults. Instead, we honor and reward merit. We reward those who produce more than they consume, maintaining no more than a safety net for able-bodied individuals who consume more than they produce.
Maybe a few successful, educated adults are starting to realize that our entitlement society of make-believe free health care and unearned abundance has crafted a generation of brats. McCullough wasn’t the only speaker to give an edgy commencement speech this spring.
“The fact that you are receiving a diploma from one of America’s finest institutions of higher learning does not mean you are educated,” said Jim Lehrer, a longtime PBS anchor, while addressing graduates of William and Mary College.
“Recognize that if you’ve had success, you’ve also had luck. And with luck comes obligation,” said author and Princeton alumnus Michael Lewis, addressing graduates of his alma mater. Lewis explained that too many young Americans, particularly those who were born lucky, believe they deserve big paychecks for tasks that may not matter much to society.
Hollywood director Aaron Sorkin wanted graduates of Syracuse University to know they hadn’t accomplished much.
“You’re a group of incredibly well-educated dumb people. I was there. We all were there. You are barely functional,” Sorkin told new graduates.
To God, we are special and equal at the same time. Among fellow mortals, our special status must be based on what we create for the health and welfare of society — the fruits of our lives. In that context, the special among us should be those who produce more than they receive.
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