Wellesley High School teacher David McCullough created quite the stir after telling the graduating class of 2012, “None of you is special. You are not special. You are not exceptional.”
The speech certainly caught the attention of Rush Limbaugh, who described it as “amazing.” Yet, his words also caught the attention of a millennial named Sierra, who recently wrote an open letter to McCullough pleading, “Quit Telling Us We’re Not Special.”
As someone who’s also asked commencement speakers to stop telling us the truth, the letter really resounded with me. Whether these recent graduates have been coming from high school or college, they have one thing in common: They’re all products of Generation Y. A generation who’s watched student loan debt surpass one trillion dollars, and unemployment climb to 8.2 percent.
In today’s job market, one in two college graduates are jobless or underemployed — a statistic high school graduates must love to hear as they venture off into the unknown to collect the next diploma they’ve been told they to need to hold to even think of securing a job.
So, quit telling us we’re special. As Sierra says, “We bloody well know.” She writes:
Here’s the rub: this speech is misplaced. It doesn’t belong in an address to the generation graduating into an economy that wipes its rear end with their high school diplomas. It doesn’t belong in an address to the generation who began running the rat race at age 4. It doesn’t apply to the generation that knows hard work guarantees nothing, that can’t hope to own a home before we have our own children, that pours coffee for other people’s parents for free in the name of gaining “work experience” through “internship.” David McCullough ought to have given that speech not to the graduates, but to their parents. We have not yet begun to shape the world: we are living in the one you created. And it’s killing us.
Growing up, your parents might have told you, you were brave, beautiful, creative or unique, but Sierra points out that accruing praise and accruing self-esteem are two different things. Praise grew to become a parenting strategy. And when children responded, “You have to say that because you’re our parents,” some parents didn’t take the time to stop and disagree.
Generation Y’s been pegged as the lazy generation — one too self-important and concerned with who’s checking their Facebook to truly understand the meaning of hard work. We’re the “boomerang generation,” merely returning to our parents’ basement after we graduate. But, why have we ended up there? Because, as Sierra says, “You have given us a world in which even our college degrees are meaningless because there are just too many of us.” No longer is it as easy to find an employer who will dote on us anything close to a living wage. Just ask these recent graduates.
Sierra later writes:
If there is anything that defines our generation, it’s knowing exactly how miserably our lives have failed to satisfy you. We grew up imagining that we could be like you, but we’re not. You have prevented us from being like you.
Although there is a privileged class out there, one that does believe it’s special, several of the others do understand the realities of life. Originally, I wanted commencement speakers to stop telling me the truth so I could live in 20-minutes of ignorance. Sitting there, quivering in my shapeless polyester gown, I knew what I was about to face. And, while I wasn’t looking to bury my head in the sand, I was hoping to be thrown a few words of encouragement.
Now, I want commencement speakers to, yes, level with us, but also to level with themselves. Sierra’s right: We know we’re not special. But are we too blame for where we are now?