I have sat through my fair share of commencement speeches. My high school, college, first year completion of law school, and graduate school speeches. My brother’s high school and college. My sister’s high school, college and graduate school. One best friend’s medical school and another best friend's graduate school. Most recently, my brother in-law’s college graduation last month.
That’s 12 just off the top of my head! 12 speeches, filled with praise and accolades for the auditorium of students seated in square hats. 12 speeches about seizing the day, taking on the world, and making a difference. Yet, of all the speeches, I cannot remember exactly one quote from any of the speakers. The words spill out of their mouths and project through the auditorium, flowing into my ears, sounding exactly like the adults on “Peanuts.” Wa Wa Waaaaa, Wa Wa Waaaaa…
Maybe it’s because I want to get to the celebration part that I don’t remember. Or maybe it’s because you can only hear the same redundant banter so many times, before it blurs together into an unrecognizable monotonic sound… Waaaaaa….
Whatever the reason, those speeches are filed under the “BS. Get on with it already” category in my head. Nothing memorable. Definitely nothing blog worthy. Until this week…
The buzz of the newest commencement speaker was spreading like social media, gossip column wildfire! The man who told the football field of impressionable high school seniors, “You’re NOT Special!”
His honesty momentarily paralyzed the nation. Despite the 12 long, pleonastic previous speeches I’ve witnessed, I Googled the latest faux pas to watch it myself.
“You’re not special,” the middle aged man, in a generic navy suit proclaimed to the students. He is well spoken and clearly educated. The sincerity of his eyes can be seen when he looks out over the tops of his glasses to connect with the audience. He articulates that, “Even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that still makes you one of 7,000 people just like you.”
I find him inspirational and avante garde. Plaudits and kudos to him for revealing the true secret of the universe. That the world does not bend for you and that you have to be flexible and work for what you want. There is no exception to this rule. You are not special. You have to work for what you want too.
I think this was upsetting to many people, because this generation of teenagers, the ones right behind the “late 20 somethings” were mollycoddled. Simply put, they were overprotected, falsely rewarded and shielded from serious truths in life. Truths like, not every T-ball game is a tie. Not every student gets a chance to be student of the month. Not every player gets a trophy at the end of the year.
But this is a revelation for this generation of teenagers and their parents. They are the kids who tied every game, passed every grade (Thanks to No- Child-Left-Behind) and received a ribbon or trophy at the end of every season… Good, Bad or Indifferent!
“It’s good to give positive encouragement,” parents defended. Seriously?
I find it funny though. I distinctly remember being young, probably about 6. My family had just taught me how to play the card game 500 Rummy. It was a camping tradition and I wanted so badly to be a “big kid” who could play too. My hands were too small to hold all the cards so my mother gave me a box top to display them in.
“You’ll get the hang of holding them, for now just use the box and don’t let your brother or sister peak,” she said with a wink.
My brother is 8 years older than me. He always looked at me like a little sister he needed to protect, not a sibling he needed to rival. I remember, one camping trip, playing cards with him. I kept winning. It felt good. I was getting the hang of it. My brother was happy because I was getting it and winning was making me confident.
“Are you guys having fun?” my mom asked.
“Yes! I’m winning every game,” I proudly boasted. My mom smiled and before she walked away from me and my brother, I noticed him wink at her. I may have been young, but I was perceptive enough to know that the wink held some kind of value.
“Hey! Why’d you do that to Mommy?” I asked. Before he could respond, I connected the dots and started crying.
“What’s wrong?” my brother immediately consoled me.
“Stop letting me win… I’m not a baby!” I sobbed through tears.
I think about that experience when I teach at the community college. I think about how annoyed I was when I discovered I wasn’t winning based on my own merit. I wonder if that gumption is lost every time a student tries to make themselves an exception to my rules.
- Can’t I just submit my paper late?
- Can’t I just retake the quiz?
- Can’t I just skip this assignment?
- Can’t you just omit that absence?
- Can’t you just do it, this one time, just for me?
NO! I want to scream! I cannot. I can’t, because things that are not earned, even if it’s a win in a 500 Rummy game, are not worth anything. You are not the exception to every single rule. You are not special, because if everyone is special, than no one is.
I truly find that my students struggle with this aspect of college. They all read the syllabus, they know the rules, but they still push to be the one exception. I struggle to comprehend. I cried when I found out the winning games were all handed to me. Yet, the generation under me seems to cry and complain if things don’t go their way or are not handed to them. They are annoyed they have to work for it.
Maybe it’s the technology? The entire world literally at their fingertips… Smartphones glowing in their pockets… Or maybe it’s their parents who have, like the speech said; pampered, doted upon, helmeted, bubble wrapped and coddled them.
There can be a problem with overencouragement and not wanting your child’s feelings to ever get hurt. With this ideal we create what the teacher in that speech calls a “narcotic paralysis of self satisfaction.” People are so used to hearing how fabulous they are, so, when a situation occurs or happens where they fail, or screw up, or do poorly presents itself — they just can’t handle it.
“We have come to love accolades more than genuine achievement,” he says. I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with him. It’s not about getting good grades, playing well, being a decent person. Instead, it’s about the recognition you get after completing it. This sends the wrong message.
Even as a 20something, I’ve come to realize the realities of life. Not everything goes your way. You will fail. You will have regrets. There will be situations that you wish you could change, but sometimes there is absolutely NOTHING you can do.
These are the harsh realities of life. However, these are also the same factors that help us to appreciate and understand what a good day is. What a true achievement feels like. You have to have the bad to contrast the good; so we can recognize the good and hold onto it tightly with both hands. It’s really no secret at all.
SHORT AND SWEET…AKA…MORAL OF THE BLOG If everyone gets a trophy, then the trophy is deemed meaningless. You see, we’re not generically special. We have to make ourselves stand out. We have to work toward something special to achieve something special. xoxo Lana
“Climb the mountain so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.” “Do what you love, love what you do.”