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June 12th, 2012
10:27 AM ET

Teacher who tells students they're 'not special' says parents need to let kids determine their own course and achieve on their own

"You're not special."

That's what some recent graduates were told by their commencement speaker, Wellesley High School teacher David McCullough, Jr., and the Massachusetts high school graduation speech has gone viral online.

"You're not special. You're not exceptional," McCullough says. "Contrary to what your U-9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card despite every assurance that a certain corpulent purple dinosaur that nice Mr. Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal cape crusader is swooped into save you, you are nothing special."

McCullough talks to Zoraida this morning on "Early Start" to react to the attention his speech received and to clarify what he meant in the speech.

Read the transcript after the jump.


MCCULLOUGH: Good morning.

SAMBOLIN: - good morning. A lot of people were laughing there, but a lot of people also took this very seriously. Your goal was not to crush these kids. What was your goal?

MCCULLOUGH: No, no. My goal was to remind them that a commencement is a beginning. And that when they leave there, they're off into the world where everyone starts from the same starting line. So, often, if a kid is led to believe he's special with that comes expectations and with expectations comes pressure to succeed.

Kids know who they are. They know what their passions are. Let's leave them alone and let them be free and determine their own path.

SAMBOLIN: I want to very quickly play the end of your speech, which I think is important to hear before we continue the dialogue here.


MCCULLOUGH: Selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life then come only with recognition that you're not special, because everyone is. Congratulations. Good luck. Make for yourselves please for your sake and for ours, extraordinary lives.



SAMBOLIN: You know, I started by saying that not a lot of people were really happy about this. I'm a mom and I know that you're a father as well. And oftentimes, the world really does not prop our children up, right? They tear them down. So, do you think that maybe, perhaps, some people criticized you because of that?

MCCULLOUGH: Perhaps. Most of the criticism I've got, in my opinion, has been reacting to lines from the speech taken out of context. If they had the interest to read the whole speech or patience to read the whole speech, they'd see that really my point is that if - it's an examination of the concept of specialness.

If everyone is special, then no one is. It's like Garrison Keeler's notion that everyone alike (INAUDIBLE) is above average. Well, that merely then just changes the definition of average.

SAMBOLIN: You've been a teacher for 26 years. Why do you think it was -

MCCULLOUGH: I have, yes.


SAMBOLIN: Why do you think it was important for kids to hear this message? And, do you think this was a right timing? Would you have done this earlier in your career?

MCCULLOUGH: Well, I had been doing this earlier in my career. I've been doing it every day in my classroom for 26 years. Nothing I said that day was new. I've been saying it to my own students for a long time. Kids get the notion that they're special, as I said a moment ago, and they're pressured to achieve.

And moms and dads, well meaning moms and dads will swoop in to help their child do well. And in a sense, they're denying a kid the opportunity to fail and get up and succeed on his own, which is a better learning experience and is better for their, quote, "self- esteem." So much concern is applied to kids these days about, quote, "self-esteem." Well, if you just step back, let them determine their own course and achieve on their own, the self-esteem they will enjoy will be far more valid than if they've been coached and tutored and helped along the way.

SAMBOLIN: I think a lot of parents would actually agree with you. David McCullough, English teacher, Wellesley High School, congratulations to you. I bet you didn't think you would have gone viral with that.

Filed under: Education
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. reggie12

    Quit babying your kids, the younger generation are nothing but a bunch of panzies who want to live with mommy and daddy. Work for you own car and life, slackers. Be someone they can be proud of not a burden to them. you want, want, want and the best you can do is take out the garbage?

    June 17, 2012 at 2:18 am | Reply
    • Lenrem

      Romney embraces Al Gore and deacns holding hands around the Gaia idol. it worked to make Romney the media favorite. Wait till Romney explains that he only slightly embraces global warming. Prepare for the Romney dinner special consisting of chilled Obamacare accompanied by rewarmed Global Warming Lite. With Romney, our electric bills will only double, while only half as many illegals will be covered by a renamed Romneycare. We can enjoy the coming corn shortage and food price escalation, knowing that Romney wants to keep making ethanol. Could this break up the embrace of Romney and Gore?. After all, Gore admitted ethanol was only a 2000 campaign ploy for the early primary StatesRomney's made his bed and he can now lie in it.

      July 27, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Reply
  2. Long Time Teacher

    Great story for this generation. Parents need to get their child into perspective. I don't know how these kids are going to survive in the real world. Mommy and daddy will probably take care of them.

    June 13, 2012 at 7:48 am | Reply
  3. Amir


    That's what I'm talking about...............
    I hate it when a young man has an older woman frined & along comes mom................

    June 12, 2012 at 11:35 pm | Reply
  4. Ben Krechevsky

    McCullough is a BOSS.

    June 12, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Reply

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