‘You’re Not Special’ Is Half Right

Photo by photobrixie. Available at Flikr.com.

By now, you’ve heard about David McCullough’s famous “You’re not special” commencement speech. His missive to Wellesley (Mass.) High School graduates has been met with both cheers and jeers because he had the courage, or audacity, to tell the 2012 graduates, “Do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.” Mr. David McCullough, their English teacher, was half right.

The problem McCullough pointed out is that for 18 years these freshly minted high school graduates have been repeatedly told a certain message. This message has come in many forms (a certain purple dinosaur, Mr. Rogers, generous report cards, soccer trophies, helicopter parents and well-meaning relatives). The message has consistently reinforced the idea that “you are a special person.” But McCullough said it isn’t true. Again, I’ll say he was half right.

Part of the problem is found in the logic. McCullough pointed out that approximately 37,000 high schools generated 3.2 million new high school graduates this year. That means there are 37,000 valedictorians and 37,000 class presidents. McCullough argued, “If everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless.” So, can everyone be special? “No,” said McCullough—who was half right.

McCullough continued his speech by challenging these new graduates to a higher standard. A standard based not on being special, but one based on pursuing worthy endeavors that give expression to personal passions and the desire to make a difference: “I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance.” Once again, he was half right.

Half of McCullough’s “you’re not special” argument is right. The right part is the part that points out that people who feel they are special and claim to be special have lost their ability to see how they fit into a larger community. They are the ones who feel they deserve the new job. They are certain they have an edge in getting that scholarship. And, when times are rough, they expect no-strings-attached handouts. Seeing yourself as special is one foundation of the entitlement mentality that contributes to the destruction of our society.

The other half of McCullough’s “you’re not special” argument is wrong. The wrong part is that, while you’re not special in our society, you are special in the one way that truly matters. It doesn’t matter whether you are or are not special in your school, town, or company. Give it up. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the creator of the universe, the one who gave meaning to time, the one who built and programmed the supercomputer in your head, the one who wrote the magic code called DNA, the one who thought trillions of stars into existence, the one who paints colors on flowers and the sun-setting sky, the one who gave you your first breath—God declares you to be special.

He says you are special and whether you are just one of 90 billion (or so) people who have ever lived on earth, or if you had been the ONLY person on earth, God would love you and sacrifice his beloved son for you just the same.

McCullough was half wrong. You are special to God.

You’re not special because of what someone says about you or what you think about yourself. You are special because God says you are.

If you would like to learn more about why God says you are special, go to NeedhHim.com or call 888-NEED-HIM.

4 thoughts on “‘You’re Not Special’ Is Half Right

  1. As was stated, in terms of the world, you are not special. But you are unique. There is a difference. Special is more referring to your talents and whatnot. But unique refers to YOU. YOUR person. YOUR character. YOU.

    • I was reviewing what I just posted and I had another thought. When I said, “Unique refers to YOU. YOUR person. YOUR character. YOU.” I also should have said “Unique refers to what makes YOU YOU, what people see and are impressed with (whether a good impression or bad).”

    • Andrew, I agree — there IS a difference between “special” and “unique.” I argued that it is more important that people are special because God sees us that way, not because of what another person says. People are also unique because of God’s creative design. He has made 90 billion (or so) unique people — no two alike, not even you and your identical twin brother. In both cases, though, the issue is the attitude about the source of specialness, or uniqueness. Is it from our own minds, or the minds of other people? Or is it based on what God says about us? If it is the former, we can’t be 100% certain of the integrity of the statement. If it is the latter, we know it is true and it is humbling, not ego building.

      Thanks for your comment! I love you!

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