I am not special. I am just like everyone else. And that’s why I’m going to write my own post about David McCullough’s recent commencement address to the Wellesley High School graduating class of 2012.
I’ve yet to see a dissenting opinion about McCullough’s address. But as I know I’m not special, I also know I’m not the only one who thought it was mediocre.
I’ve no doubt that Wellesley is a well-off area with plenty of pampered kids. But it is disingenuous to believe that every American kid grows up in a household that values accolades and coddles their children. It’s just not true. Don’t believe me? Spend a little time in Northeast Baltimore. It’s even disingenuous to believe that every Wellesley graduate lives in such a household. Based on demographic statistics, there’s a chance that 8% of those kids suffered child abuse. It’s likely that at least some Wellesley parents raised their kids to think they were completely worthless. Not being special was drilled into them daily. They know they aren’t special and have internalized it. They didn’t need McCullough’s reminder on graduation day.
Some kids know all to well they aren’t special.
Do you really think that’s better?
I would much rather have a kid thinking he’s a little too special to a kid thinking he’s not special at all. Obviously a middle ground is best. But if we can’t have that, I’ve no problem in erring on the side of too much coddling.
I live with my parents in a well-to-do suburb. It usually makes Money magazine’s Top 100 Places to live list. I do this so my kid can take advantage of every bit of coddling that an area such as this has to offer, including great public schools and rec activities. My son plays sports and often does get a trophy just for showing up. In most leagues, they haven’t even started keeping score yet at his age. But the kids always know which team was the winner and which team was the loser. Almost every kid knows that winning is best, practically from birth, despite how many times you tell them what’s important is how you play the game. It’s not something they need to learn. My kid can tell you the score of his games better than I can. I’m honestly not paying attention. I love him the same, whether he wins or loses. He feels better about himself when he wins.
Learning you’re not special is part of growing up. It’s not new. Nothing McCullough had to say was an earth-shattering revelation. Those of us lucky enough to have been raised in a home where we were loved and made to feel special only needed to spend a few days in an auditorium class full of college students or a couple of hours on the job to realize we are one of millions in exactly the same position. And then we tweet about our discontent. Just like everyone else. You learn you’re not special, you adapt to it and you move on. Those of us who can do that are successful. Those of us who can’t spend years in therapy blaming our parents for our failures.
I refuse to believe that I’m setting my kid up to fail by coddling him now. He is loved. He is privileged. He has advantages that some children can only dream about. Does that mean he won’t have to work hard to make something of himself? Hell, no. Does he need someone to remind him of that on commencement day? Not really. Life will teach him that just as it has taught generations before him.
My kid is not special. But he knows he is special to me. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.