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David McCullough is a real famous guy who won two Pulitzers for the books he wrote on Harry Truman and John Quincy Adams. He’s so famous he narrated the movie “Seabiscuit” and has been awarded our nation’s top civilian award, “The Presidential Medal of Freedom.” That has nothing to do with today. You see, he and his wife Rosalee had five kids and this is about one of them instead a high school English teacher.

David McCullough, Jr. teaches at Wellesley High School and was chosen to give this year’s Commencement Address to the graduating class. He said it took his 26 years and two hours to write it the years coming in the classroom and his heart felt message has now gone viral with nearly one million views on YouTube.

The theme is what all Americans know as the honest truth none of you is special and the speech’s content has swept our nation like some raging wildfire. All the major networks, the big newspapers both nationally and abroad have carried parts of it and Rush Limbaugh is still wallowing in its candor. I personally believe every person in America should read what Prof. McCullough told the very kids he has taught as he bid them goodbye so, with no further fanfare, allow me to share a complete transcript of his thoughts:


A Speech by David McCullough, Jr.

So here we are. commencement. life’s great forward looking ceremony. And don’t say, “What about weddings?” Weddings are one sided and insufficiently effective. Weddings are bride centric pageantry. Other than conceding to a list of unreasonable demands, the groom just stands there. No stately, hey everybody look at me procession. No being given away. No identity changing pronouncement. And can you imagine a television show dedicated to watching guys try on tuxedos?

Their fathers sitting there misty eyed with joy and disbelief, their brothers lurking in the corner muttering with envy. Left to men, weddings would be, after limits testing procrastination, spontaneous, almost inadvertent. during halftime. on the way to the refrigerator. And then there’s the frequency of failure: statistics tell us half of you will get divorced. A winning percentage like that’ll get you last place in the American League East the Baltimore Orioles do better than weddings.

But this ceremony. commencement. a commencement works every time. From this day forward. truly. in sickness and in health, through financial fiascos, through midlife crises and passably attractive sales reps at trade shows in Cincinnati, through diminishing tolerance for annoyingness, through every difference, irreconcilable and otherwise, you will stay forever graduated from high school, you and your diploma as one, ’til death do you part.

No, commencement is life’s great ceremonial beginning, with its own attendant and highly appropriate symbolism. Fitting, for example, for this auspicious rite of passage, is where we find ourselves this afternoon, the venue.

Normally, I avoid cliches like the plague, wouldn’t touch them with a ten foot pole, but here we are on a literal level playing field. That matters. That says something. And your ceremonial costume. shapeless, uniform, one size fits all. Whether male or female, tall or short, scholar or slacker, spray tanned prom queen or intergalactic X Box assassin, each of you is dressed, you’ll notice, exactly the same. And your diploma . but for your name, exactly the same.

All of this is as it should be, because none of you is special.

You are not special. You are not exceptional.

Contrary to what your (youth) 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.

Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again.

You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have. And, certainly, we’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs. Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet.

Why, maybe you’ve even had your picture in the (newspaper!) And now you’ve conquered high school . and, indisputably, here we all have gathered for you, the pride and joy of this fine community, the first to emerge from that magnificent new building.

But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.

The empirical evidence is everywhere, numbers even an English teacher can’t ignore. Newton, Natick, Nee.

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. But why limit ourselves to high school? After all, you’re leaving it.

So think about this: even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you. Imagine standing somewhere over there on Washington Street on Marathon Monday and watching sixty eight hundred “yous” go running by.

And consider for a moment the bigger picture: your planet, I’ll remind you, is not the center of its solar system, your solar system is not the center of its galaxy, your galaxy is not the center of the universe. In fact, astrophysicists assure us the universe has no center; therefore, you cannot be it. Neither can Donald Trump. which someone should tell him. although that hair is quite a phenomenon.”

But, Dave,” you cry, “Walt Whitman tells me I’m my own version of perfection! Epictetus tells me I have the spark of Zeus!” And I don’t disagree. So that makes 6.8 billion examples of perfection, 6.8 billion sparks of Zeus.

You see, if everyone is special, then no one is.

If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.

We have come to see them as the point and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole.

No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it . Now it’s “So what does this get me?” As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the (college) application to Bowdoin than the well being of Guatemalans.

It’s an epidemic and in its way, not even dear old Wellesley High is immune . one of the best of the 37,000 nationwide, Wellesley High School . where good is no longer good enough, where a B is the new C, and the midlevel curriculum is called Advanced College Placement. And I hope you caught me when I said “one of the best.”

I said “one of the best” so we can feel better about ourselves, so we can bask in a little easy distinction, however vague and unverifiable, and count ourselves among the elite, whoever they might be, and enjoy a perceived leg up on the perceived competition. But the phrase defies logic. By definition there can be only one best. You’re it or you’re not.
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