An English professor Mr. David McCullough was asked to address a graduation at Wellesley High School (Massachusetts) in 2012 where he advised students that uniqueness of an individual does not lie in trying to differentiate themselves from the crowd, but ironically in forgetting about themselves and being selfless. A very excellent video to watch and some lines I liked from the speech below:
- 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. No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it… Now it’s “So what does this get me?”
- If you’ve learned anything in your years here I hope it’s that education should be for, rather than material advantage, the exhilaration of learning. You’ve learned, too, I hope, as Sophocles assured us, that wisdom is the chief element of happiness.
- Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about,
- Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages. And read… read all the time… read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect. Read as a nourishing staple of life. Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it. Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer; and as surely as there are commencements there are cessations, and you’ll be in no condition to enjoy the ceremony attendant to that eventuality no matter how delightful the afternoon.
- The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer.
- Don’t wait for inspiration or passion to find you. Get up, get out, explore, find it yourself, and grab hold with both hands.
- The fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct. It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things. Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly.
- Discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.