As just over 100 students from the Merritt Secondary School graduating class of 2012 line up to receive their high school diplomas, their minds will, no doubt, be full of wonder and anticipation.
Tomorrow, the soon-to-be graduates, clad in academic gowns and mortarboards, will walk through the Zamboni entrance of the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena, up a few steps through an arch, and take their respective seats to hear words of inspiration from classmates and teachers. Then, they will be called up to receive their prize for years of study, hard work, and dedication.
It's a fairly typical and predictable ceremony, at least as far as speeches go (grads have been known to do some crazy things as they are called up to the podium to receive their diplomas).
Grad speeches usually focus encouragement and the specialness or uniqueness of the current class. And why not? We are all unique; we all have thumbprints that nobody else has or could duplicate.
But once in a while, someone comes along and tells it like it is, in an attempt to bring the grads back down to Earth from their very brief period of graduation-induced ecstasy.
"You are not special. You are not exceptional," English teacher David McCullough Jr. told a Wellesley High graduating class in Boston earlier this month.
The speech became a media sensation.
"You've been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble wrapped … feted and fawned over, and called sweetie pie—yes you have."
And isn't it true? Even more so today with British Columbia's self-esteem-based philosophy (arguably Marxism) on education.
McCullough goes on to humble the class.
"You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. … We have of late…come to love accolades more than genuine achievement." McCullough is describing the plight of Western culture.
"No longer is it how you play the game; no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn, or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it. Now it's, so what does this get me? As a consequence, we've cheapened worthy endeavours, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans."
Some sobering numbers for grads to think about:
"Across the country (U.S.), no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That's 37,000 valedictorians … 37,000 class presidents … 92,000 harmonizing altos … 340,000 swaggering jocks … 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs."
McCullough isn't trying to discourage students or belittle their achievements. His speech should be understood to be truly inspirational—to provoke incentive and a yearning for reward through hard work and achievement—to work to become special in its real sense.
Unfortunately, the school systems aren't preparing students for the performance-based makeup of the real world. Evidence for that can be seen in the doing away of classic grading in report cards. But for those that have a sense of strong work ethic, uniqueness, ambition, and virtue, they will have a great advantage in the highly competitive world they are about to enter.