There was a high school graduation speech that recently went viral given by David McCullough, Jr. (yes, the son of David McCullough, the two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, author of “John Adams” and “Truman,” and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom). In the speech at Wellesley High School, Mr. McCullough, a very eloquent English teacher, told the graduating high school seniors that they, quite simply, aren’t anything special. Here’s an excerpt: “You are not special. You are not exceptional. 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.”
We salute David McCullough, Jr. for this very special speech! It never ceases to amaze us how many parents (and how many students) think they’re special. They think they’ll get into Harvard just because they deserve to get into Harvard. Over the years, we’ve been on thousands of phone calls in which mothers and fathers talk our ears off about how special their kid is. Because he plays soccer and the violin. Or because he’s just so, so smart. Or because she’s so involved in community service. If parents only knew — the last thing we want to hear about is how special their child is! And that’s because what parents see as special isn’t necessarily special in the highly selective college admissions process. Just because your child is so “bright” and “charming,” that doesn’t mean they’re brighter or more charming than other applicants.
It pains us how special some parents and students think they are. It would be a whole lot easier if these parents and students just accepted right off the bat that they’re not special, that to gain admission to a highly selective college, they’re going to have to take our advice to make themselves more special. The students and parents whom we work with typically come around and understand the fact that they or their children aren’t special but it would be a whole lot easier if they knew this upfront. As Mr. McCullough states so well, there are thousands of valedictorians. There are thousands of jocks. Thousands of musicians. In fact, Mr. McCullough says, “Across the country 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.” Not everyone is special. Few are. If everyone were special, special wouldn’t mean anything. Seriously.
While you’re here, check out this “Huffington Post” article on Ivy League admission.