Commencement speech doused in reality

David McCullough, Jr (son of the famed historian of the same name, minus the Jr) has an interesting message to graduates of Massachusetts’s Wellesley High School:

No, commencement is life’s great ceremonial beginning, with its own attendant and highly appropriate symbolism. Fitting, for example, for this auspicious rite of passage, is where we find ourselves this afternoon, the venue. Normally, I avoid clichés like the plague, wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole, but here we are on a literal level playing field. That matters. That says something. And your ceremonial costume… shapeless, uniform, one-size-fits-all. Whether male or female, tall or short, scholar or slacker, spray-tanned prom queen or intergalactic X-Box assassin, each of you is dressed, you’ll notice, exactly the same. And your diploma… but for your name, exactly the same.

All of this is as it should be, because none of you is special.

You are not special. You are not exceptional.

Click through to read the whole speech. Worth it.

Today’s post will be brought to you by four month old news. But I was clearing out my drafts on Tumblr (seriously 65 drafts? What is wrong with me?) and stumbled upon this post about Wellesley High School teacher David McCullough Jr. who raised a stir by telling the graduating class of 2012 that they were not special. And I figured it was finally time to put in my 2 cents.

Because what opinion isn’t better when paired with 4 month old news? So here’s my point: David McCullough was one of the best teachers I ever had in my life!

That’s right, before he was making headlines in Wellesley, he was teaching English to High Schoolers in Honolulu. And although I loved his class, I dreaded turning in papers to him because he abhorred “to be” verbs. You try writing 5-10 page papers monthly without using “is”. I think I was docked an entire grade on my first paper for my “ over-usage of the word ‘is.’” By my last go-round, I remember I got it down to something like 3 is’s in the entire 10 page paper. What What!

And it wasn’t just me that adored him. He was a relatively new teacher (to my school) when I was a senior, but already so beloved that when it came time for the Baccalaureate committee that I was on to choose a faculty speaker for our graduation Baccalaureate ceremony, he won by a unanimous vote. And he was so gracious he even wrote a thank you letter to us committee members. Meanwhile, the fact that I found his 1999 speech to my class on youtube amazes me!

Funny, he probably doesn’t remember me in the slightest (although I did make quite the impression when during my lunch break he caught me reading a cliff notes version of the assigned book we were having a quiz on later that afternoon) but I have often thought of him fondly over the years… especially whenever there is a reference anywhere to The Graduate.

Totally random side note, but my class, “Fiction and Film” probably spent 1 month watching The Graduate because he would stop the movie every 2 minutes or so to dissect what was going on. After all that dissection we asked him if his wife had a problem going to see movies with him. His answer was yes.

Ryan also had him for an English teacher and when I read McCullough’s speech out loud to him, Ryan’s response was (with a tone of reverence), “that pretty much sounds exactly like something McCullough would say.”

Meanwhile, I wrote about 20 “to be” verbs in this post alone. Sorry, McCullough, guess it didn’t stick.

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