Wednesday, June 13, 2012

On Being Special


A man I’ve never met face-to-face, but whom I adore, said something in his recent excellent post that inspired this essay.

In Stop Your Damned Whining, David McClain wrote, among many other things,  the following:

One last thing. Stop being afraid to voice your opinions just because you think everyone is smarter than you are because you have shit for education. Own your beliefs and don’t be afraid to state them. If someone gets snippy with you, well you just tell em to take a flying fuck with a spider monkey.

This really got to me.  I started wondering just how many other people out there in OS land and beyond feel their opinions are subject to being shot down out of hand because they have “shit for education.”

One of the many benefits of reaching the age of 67 alive is the ability to see things from a looking-back perspective.  There was a time when I might have bought the idea that a person who didn’t attend college, or didn’t finish high school, or, as was the case with my late and beloved stepfather, didn’t even finish 8th grade, would not be able to hold his own in a conversation with a group of people with a bunch of the alphabet strung behind their names.

I am here to tell you all – that is simply absurd.

On June 1, 2012, David McCullough, Jr. delivered a commencement speech to the privileged students of the tony Wellesley High School in Massachusetts. It was one of the bluntest and probably the profoundest in that school’s history.  It went viral and was featured on just about every newscast in the nation.  Why?  Because he said, without sugar-coating, without preamble, “You are not special.”You are not special teacher David McCullough, Jr,

You are not exceptional. Contrary to what your u9 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 Townsman! 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… I am allowed to say Needham, yes? …that has to be two thousand high school graduates right there, give or take, and that’s just the neighborhood Ns. 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. –David McCullough, Jr.

Those pampered young graduates, who worked their butts off in a rigorous curriculum that only a private school can offer, were probably shaken to their educated cores.  After all, these are the kids who were raised by the Me Generation, the parents who enrolled them in the best schools the day after they were born!  Their parents believed, as most of the rest of us did, that education was the key to everything.  Anyone who failed to educate themselves was doomed to cipherdom, right?

Well just look at where all that education has gotten us!  Look around the world and show me where higher education has prevented the mistakes made all along the way that led us to the current state of affairs.  Famine? Check. Massacres? Check.  Wars?  Check.  Hatred? Check  Peace?  Nope.

I have a B.A. in Psychology.  Does that make me any more entitled to an opinion than my stepfather, who taught me more about life at our kitchen table than I learned in the four wonderful years I spent learning how to learn in college?  ‘Cuz that is exactly  what the takeaway was from my college experience.  Sure I learned a lot of things I might otherwise have skipped.  I certainly never had occasion to use the Chemistry-Physics I almost failed to learn in the one and only class that I earned a D in.

I learned where to find the answers to my questions, how to reason through a problem, and when to know I was in over my head.

Our friend David does precisely the same things with what he calls his “shit for education.”  He just learned it through hands-on, on-the-job experience – the school of Hard Knocks.  From where we sit, in roughly the same age group (although I think David is younger than I am) we seem to have come to the same exit on the freeway of life.

It is my fervent hope that anyone reading this post who harbors similar thoughts about their educational inadequacy will take a moment to take a second look. 

Just a housewife?  Ridiculous!  You have managed a business called a family, which requires people skills up the wazoo; fiscal responsibility for household income, regardless of its source or amount; problem solving that ranges from keeping the baby from burning his hand on the stove to finding a way to pay for the gutters that failed to stay un-rusted  long enough for your ship to come in.

A rancher?  Oh my gosh, where do I begin? Animal husbandry, agriculture, small business skills to buy and sell livestock, survival in the “wild” habitat that includes bobcats, coyotes and God only knows what other beasties cavorting around those prized horses, teeny tiny piglets and goats that faint when startled. 

Anybody who lives a life, any kind of life, becomes educated about the ways of the world and survival in it.  It is my humble but strong opinion that living long enough to reach an age that makes you eligible for Senior Citizen benefits entitles every last one of us to hold an opinion and to express it without fear of intellectual judgment by anybody else.

I am not any more special than anybody else.  Neither are you.  We may have more in terms of years in the classroom and general “stuff,”  but we are all going to end up in the same condition at the end.  Dead. 


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