Mark’s #43 – You Are Not Special: …And Other Encouragements by David McCullough, Jr. (2015)

David McCullough, Jr., son and namesake of the famous historian, high school english teacher, husband and father of four sprang into the public eye with his now famous graduation speech entitled, “You Are Not Special.”  This book, is an expansion of the speech as McCullough challenges many aspects of our culture, it’s definition of success, the pressure put on students, the distractions of the modern world, micromanaging parents, the disfunction of youth sports and activities, and more.

McCullough shares stories of fatherhood, teaching, and his own childhood.   He encourages students, parents, and school administrations to cast aside this obsessive pursuit of what we have collectively determined to be success.  Parents hover, teachers bow to pressure to lower standards and raise grades, and students have stopped taking risks for fear of failure.

Against this pressure, McCullough encourages readers and students to step out, pursue life, pursue joy, and to make a difference in the world.  Learn for the sake of learning.  Play sports for fun.  Read constantly. Write something. Stay humble.

“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”

You Are Not Special: … And Other Encouragements


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