If there was a Pulitzer Prize for commencement speeches, Wellesley High English teacher David McCullough Jr. would walk away the undisputed winner this year. You see McCullough gave a speech to the graduating class that wasn’t the same old pablum everyone in the audience paid no attention to while they were texting their friends a few seats down.
No, McCullough caught everyone’s attention by telling the assembled students and parents that contrary to what they had heard all their short lives, they were NOT special. All that coddling and over the top praise by their helicopter parents, their soccer coaches, their piano teacher, their grandparents, and all those other enablers among their friends was the big lie.
McCullough reminded the quasi-special students that once they leave the cocoon of high school and home and enter the real world, they will quickly find out that there are thousands of students out there who are just as smart and gifted as they are, in fact they will find out that there are thousands of students out there who are much smarter and more gifted than they are.
What McCullough was trying to do is put an end to the Barney Effect – remember that huge purple character on children’s television who always said to this generation that they are special. What the Barney Effect has done in American society is create a generation of teenagers who have led a charmed and entitled life and have been fed the story that they are different than the rest of their peers, in fact led to believe that they are somehow superior.
The Barney Effect hopefully has begun to run its course and with it this huge myth that young people must be handled with care and that they don’t need to prepare for a world that is super competitive, super impersonal and super demanding. What they do need is to become the masters of their own fate and look themselves objectively in the mirror to see who they are and what they possess in terms of intelligence and talent. What they don’t need are all those backslappers who have protected them from the real world for far too long. Thank you David McCullough and good bye Barney.