David McCullough Jr. had been for a long time quietly going about his business as a teacher of English at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts. He, of course, was carrying with him a very famous name, that of his father the author and historian David McCullough Sr. Perhaps a heavy mantle, perhaps not, as the son followed his own path as a man of words and the molding of young minds.
But then in June of 2012 he gave the faculty commencement speech at Wellesley and everything changed. What was supposed to be a short speech meant for the graduating class and their families became a YouTube sensation viewed by over two million people and counting.
Mr. McCullough Jr.’s speech was entitled You Are Not Special. In a humorous and heartfelt way he expressed to the students the need for them to embrace this mantra of non-specialness as they headed out into the world, after years of being coddled and told they were indeed so very special.
“Contrary to what your U9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you . . . you’re nothing special.”
The theme struck a chord as he continued to talk about why not thinking of oneself as entirely special can help lead to a special life, one that more often results in inner fulfillment and a path carved out of hard work and love for the doing rather than the result.
“The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer.”
Mr. McCullough Jr. has recently published a book that is an expanded version of his speech. He will give a reading and talk at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore in Vineyard Haven on Tuesday, August 12, at 7 p.m.
It is sure to be a special event.