Commencement Speech: “You Are Not Special”

I know the graduation fervor has died down since earlier last month, but this might be the best commencement speech I’ve ever heard.

There’s a reason that David McCullough’s address to Wellesley High School has racked up more than 1.5 million views  since being posted on YouTube a month ago.  Finally we have a speaker who is willing to be a straight shooter for a change—witty but honest—someone who will say what everyone has always wanted to hear at graduations.  It amounts to something to the effect of: “Guess what kid, it’s been a good run having you here at school, but when it comes down to it, you’re not really all that special.  There are thousands of graduates in this country in the same shoes as you. And they think they’re pretty awesome too. So what are you going to do about it?” Forget the “reach for the stars, you can do anything” crap. “If everyone is special, no one is,” says McCullough, “If everyone gets a trophy, trophies are meaningless.”

I think it goes to show that our society, despite all the superficiality and political correctness that we put up to shield ourselves from reality, still longs for authenticity. No one wants to live under a delusion or lie, and McCullough, though hopeful, doesn’t shy away from reality in his speech. “Statistics tell us that half of you will get divorced.”  When you think about it, that’s an awful reality. It means that hundreds of kids sitting right in front of him will one day experience horrible regret, conflict, and heartache. Yet that is the world too, is it not? It’s full of opportunity, but it’s also full of pitfalls, failures, and disappointment.

Better still, McCullough hits on several critical points that I did not fully grasp until well into my college education.  Namely, he tells the graduates: “I also hope you’ve recognized how little you know—how little you know now.” If you’re no more than a tiny, finite, speck in a world of millions of people and a universe of unfathomable length and breadth, how much can you really expect of have figured out? Not much, of course, so how do you deal with it? McCullough gives them the one simple remedy: “Read. Read all the time. Read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self respect. Read as a nourishing staple of life.”

If you watch the speech, take some time to think about it. Think about the principles; then find ways to act. Meditate on what it means to truly live. Agonize over what it means to truly live. Question the purpose of your life. Pray, doubt, cry. Inspiration quotes and speeches are a dime a dozen. Seriously, for the most part it’s true. But the things that change lives—and it may not be one specific moment, phrase, or speech, but dozens of books, a deep friendship, extended meditation and prayer, faith expressed in concrete action–the things that let you look back through life and say, “I’m not who I was back then.” Those are truly priceless.

McCullough echoes New York Times’ columnist David Brooks’ reminder to graduates that it’s not about you. Sure, you may have potential, but you are not the end. You must not make yourself the end. The fulfilled life only happens when you think on things more important than yourself.

I like the irreverent twist on the famous Latin phrase near the end: “carpe the heck out of the diem.” It takes a certain energy, an initiative—a violence, if you will—to truly live. McCullough says “The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap.” Although I would nuance this by noting that sometimes the greatest joys in life are things that happen to us—things that just seem to fall into our laps–the basic point is correct. Genuine living demands that we choose. It requires a distinct act of the will whereby we actively do things for the sake of Something greater. It is in our nature to let the universe revolve around ourselves, but it is a temptation we must resist. As Brooks said: “The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.”

A Little Christmas Treat

I have officially finished all the homework and exams for the Fall semester. That means I can really start enjoying the Christmas season now. As a treat for myself and my readers, here are three of my favorite Christmas music videos from three of my favorite bands.




A Pair of Unrelated Q&As

A little flair of my personal interests today.

One, I’ve shared my love for AMC’s The Walking Dead. Here’s an interview with the editor of the series. He talks about what it takes to make “exploding zombie heads emotional.”

Two, ultimate Frisbee is my favorite sport to play, hands down. So here’s a basic Q&A about the great game of ultimate with Kevil Seiler. Yes, I know we ultimate players are a little strange, but we’re still awesome.

Short Film: He That Shall Endure

This is a short film I worked on this past summer with some friends. We finished it up over our Winter Break. I wrote the screenplay and played the main character. Enjoy!

It won a Best Editing, Best Effects, Best Director, Best Original Music, Best Actress, and Best of College in the Bakersfield Christian Youth Film Festival last week.

Welcome to the Blog

Welcome to ACwords! This is my second attempt at blogging. My first try had its highs and lows, but mostly lows. I never achieved much of a readership besides a handful of friends and family members. I posted inconsistently and, last summer, decided to completely abandoned the whole thing.

So here’s the goal this time around. I want to post my own original content at least once by the Sunday of every week. I think that’s reasonable: one post a week that I write myself. I will also occasionally post links that catch my eye, maybe offer a bit of commentary on things, etc. Substantial posts of my own work will center on personal philosophical/theological musings, art analysis and criticism like film and music reviews, political commentary, criticism of news coverage, perhaps the occasional poem or short story, and whatever else inspires me.

This blog will not be another one of those public diaries where I post things like insignificant personal ramblings or pictures of me and friends. Hopefully, it will be a place for intelligent commentary and conversation. After a few months, I want this to have developed into something that I can use for my portfolio.

I also plan to repost some of my work on the (hopefully) rare week that I can’t get something of my own up. I wrote a few decent pieces at my old blog as well a some things for school that may end up resurfacing here.

It will probably help you to get an idea of where I’m coming from personally. I’m a Christian, sometimes a bitter, confused and cynical one, but a Christian nonetheless. I struggle with my faith, I have doubts, and I make lots and lots of mistakes. My core beliefs are rooted in the Bible. I’ve been influence quite a bit by people like C.S. Lewis, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, Timothy Keller, and Albert Mohler (among others). But I also want to be a writer and a thinker in the public square. I’d like to be a journalist, teacher, and perhaps even screenwriter eventually. My concern in this regard is with the truth and understanding how the world works. I believe I can bring all subjects under the Lordship of Christ without necessarily bringing in the Bible or any explicit mention of God.

Understand, though, that all that “religious” stuff will come up eventually because I care more what God thinks of my writing than anyone else. I just don’t want to be that one-sided, fundamentalist Christian metaphorically beating people over the head with a “Jesus brick.”