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You Are Not Special
June 8, 2012 6:14 AM   Subscribe

An English teacher delivers a better than average commencement address.
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.
posted by COD (190 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Weddings are one-sided and insufficiently effective. Weddings are bride-centric pageantry. Other than conceding to a list of unreasonable demands, the groom just stands there. No stately, hey-everybody-look-at-me procession. No being given away. No identity-changing pronouncement. And can you imagine a television show dedicated to watching guys try on tuxedos? Their fathers sitting there misty-eyed with joy and disbelief, their brothers lurking in the corner muttering with envy. Left to men, weddings would be, after limits-testing procrastination, spontaneous, almost inadvertent... during halftime... on the way to the refrigerator.

Does this speech get better?
posted by peacheater at 6:20 AM on June 8, 2012 [20 favorites]


HAHA this guy dissed Mister Rogers, and you posted it here? This is going to be a shitstorm.
posted by cog_nate at 6:21 AM on June 8, 2012 [31 favorites]


It seems we have different definitions of "better than average".
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:22 AM on June 8, 2012 [14 favorites]


You know, there's giving people a fresh and honest perspective, and there's trivializing and demeaning Fred Rogers by lumping a caricature of the man and his accomplishments in with Barney and some mythical batty aunt.

Is the rest of the speech is as snidely condescending as that excerpt?
posted by maudlin at 6:22 AM on June 8, 2012 [30 favorites]


/waves at cognate, offers umbrella
posted by maudlin at 6:23 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I liked the cheap shot at the Orioles. How 'bout dem Oooooo's?!

Otherwise, I thought Aaron Sorkin did a better job of deflating egos.
posted by Leezie at 6:23 AM on June 8, 2012


Love this: You’ll note the founding fathers took pains to secure your inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–quite an active verb, “pursuit”–which leaves, I should think, little time for lying around watching parrots rollerskate on Youtube.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:26 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Rather than You Only Live Once, it should be You Live Only Once... but because YLOO doesn’t have the same ring, we shrug and decide it doesn’t matter."

I seriously do not understand the distinction. Or is this a comment on the phrase's grammar?
posted by mmmbacon at 6:26 AM on June 8, 2012


And can you imagine a television show dedicated to watching guys try on tuxedos? Their fathers sitting there misty-eyed with joy and disbelief, their brothers lurking in the corner muttering with envy.

"Say 'Aw, shucks!' to the Tux" ?
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 6:26 AM on June 8, 2012 [16 favorites]


Currently pursuing getting off a lawn.
posted by josher71 at 6:27 AM on June 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


You see, if everyone is special, then no one is.

It would be difficult to conceive of a more insidiously poisonous idea.

I'm not sure there is much in this horrible incoherent mishmash of slogans that counts as an idea - it manages to be both grotesquely patronising ("you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped") and incoherent ("I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance" except "Don’t wait for inspiration or passion to find you.").

As more and more young Americans are confronted with a society more unequal than ever before, that expects them to go into ever more debt in order to acquire an education, that mishandles healthcare, that has turned prisons into a new source of slave labour, a society where they will be lied to by propagandists like Malcolm Gladwell and Stephen Levitt posing as public intellectuals and where all their attempts at reform will have to struggle with a political system awash in the corrupting influence of vast campaign contributions, they will need better than this farrago of cliches and nonsense.
posted by lucien_reeve at 6:27 AM on June 8, 2012 [83 favorites]


I hope you caught me when I said “one of the best.” I said “one of the best” so we can feel better about ourselves, so we can bask in a little easy distinction, however vague and unverifiable, and count ourselves among the elite, whoever they might be, and enjoy a perceived leg up on the perceived competition. But the phrase defies logic. By definition there can be only one best. You’re it or you’re not.

For all that he appeals to the cynic in me, this guy isn't a very good English teacher is he?
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:27 AM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


We are all potentially magnificent. I understand that the pendulum has swung wildly on the topic of self-esteem but having been raised the other way.....there has to be a third option????
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:27 AM on June 8, 2012 [16 favorites]


What an asshole. I (sort of) can appreciate the sentiment (sort of), but what an asshole.
posted by broadway bill at 6:28 AM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


You’ll note the founding fathers took pains to secure your inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–quite an active verb, “pursuit”–which leaves, I should think, little time for lying around watching parrots rollerskate on Youtube.

Watching parrots rollerskate on youtube brings me happiness.
posted by josher71 at 6:28 AM on June 8, 2012 [49 favorites]


"You're not special," but by the way, "Don't bother with work you don't believe in." I'm having trouble making sense of this.
posted by escabeche at 6:29 AM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


To elaborate: he spends the bulk of this speech offering the same, tired "dose of reality" crap that drips of snide resentment for what he sees as a younger generation being pampered and coddled, then wraps it up with the same, tired platitudes about "make the most of your life for your sake".

I'm personally really, really tired of hearing people my age and older bitch and moan about how young people these days have it "too good". Wasn't that what we were all working so hard for? That the generation after us could have it better? What's up with this sneering? And then to cap that off with some Hallmark bullshit about how to live, Christ dude, do you really wonder why kids don't listen to you?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:29 AM on June 8, 2012 [75 favorites]


It's true enough, and reasonably wise, but so very very dry it seems like it should be served with some sangria, which not coincidentally when overindwould set the stage for a brawl about Fred Rogers, who would have been able to deliver the same message about finding fulfillment through action without telling everyone that though at the moment they suck mightily, there's room for improvement, which is kind of like that douche who stands over you after you've fallen off your bike and chipped a tooth saying who says, well Johnny me lad, you could have snapped your neck, maybe next time you'll look before jumping in to traffic? HELP ME UP YOU FUCK
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:29 AM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Actually the last line in that speech makes up for a multitude of sins.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:30 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it.

Bravo.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:31 AM on June 8, 2012


By definition there can be only one best. You’re it or you’re not.

There is an enormous difference, dear professor of English, obviously lost on you, between being the best of everyone and being the best you can be.

Being content with not being the former is no excuse for not attempting to achieve the latter.
posted by three blind mice at 6:31 AM on June 8, 2012 [14 favorites]


Weddings are one-sided and insufficiently effective. Weddings are bride-centric pageantry. Other than conceding to a list of unreasonable demands, the groom just stands there. No stately, hey-everybody-look-at-me procession. No being given away. No identity-changing pronouncement. And can you imagine a television show dedicated to watching guys try on tuxedos? Their fathers sitting there misty-eyed with joy and disbelief, their brothers lurking in the corner muttering with envy. Left to men, weddings would be, after limits-testing procrastination, spontaneous, almost inadvertent... during halftime... on the way to the refrigerator.

Somebody's a little bitter...
posted by kmz at 6:31 AM on June 8, 2012 [12 favorites]


MetaFilter: below average above average
posted by phaedon at 6:31 AM on June 8, 2012


An English teacher delivers a better than average commencement address.

Eh. It's nothing special.
posted by mazola at 6:32 AM on June 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's CommencementFilter season again!
posted by Edogy at 6:33 AM on June 8, 2012


I liked it.
posted by meows at 6:33 AM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


passably attractive sales reps at trade shows in Cincinnati,

There's a little story there.
posted by arcticseal at 6:33 AM on June 8, 2012 [11 favorites]


your batty Aunt Sylvia

The world thought her dead, but every night vampire Sylvia Plath rises from her tomb to stalk the surviving members of her family! Only the resurrected Fred Rogers, now more machine than man, can save them! It's nonsensical commencement action every week on the CW!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:34 AM on June 8, 2012 [31 favorites]


Everyone's life is special, because everyone's life is ultimately the only thing they have, will have, or can ever have.
posted by Grimgrin at 6:34 AM on June 8, 2012 [17 favorites]


you’re nothing special.

Except that some of them almost certainly are special. This is not someone I think should have influence over children, except maybe as a cautionary example. He's certainly nothing special otherwise.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:35 AM on June 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


You see, if everyone is special, then no one is.

Yeah, agreed that this is a completely toxic idea. I hated it when it was the moral of The Incredibles (which has a pretty disgusting Ayn Rand streak), and I hate it in this commencement address.

Being special is like being beautiful. If you have a field of flowers and they're ALL beautiful, it doesn't reduce to bland monotony -- instead it makes the experience of standing there all the more breathtaking.

Everyone IS special. It's nothing to lord over anyone else because we all have it (there used to be this metaphysical idea called the human soul or something, but now we can't have that because science).

Instead, this "nobody's special" concept is an example of the petulant frustrated ego this guy's got. It sounds more like HE entered the world thinking that specialness was an exclusive club, and was sorely disappointed. Instead of expanding his view to reconsider the meaning of individuality, he's bringing the "bad news" to the young people -- "Don't get your hopes up, you pitiful worms."

What a small man.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 6:38 AM on June 8, 2012 [52 favorites]


you’re nothing special.

Good lord, it's an irritating trope in these speeches. The speaker at my PhD commencement ceremony took the opportunity to remind us all that we were nothing special. As if years of grad school leave you with a surplus of self-confidence.
posted by Beardman at 6:40 AM on June 8, 2012 [34 favorites]


I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about, lest you too find yourself on the wrong side of a Baltimore Orioles comparison.
I was feeling good about this speech until I hit this part. I don't know many people who do work that they believe in, and the few that do mostly "believe in" their own professional advancement more than the meaning of the work itself. Adult life often requires working on things we don't believe in just to keep a roof over our heads. But maybe that's not commencement speech material.
posted by deathpanels at 6:40 AM on June 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


Telling someone that they are "nothing special" is just as stupid as telling them that they're "special". Cause "special" is a empty, vapid word that really doesn't mean anything. At least, not as an adjective to describe a human being. It's easy, trite and worthless.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:41 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm 50, so you can factor that in to my observation that today's teen and 20-something crowd, really, really crave attention above all else.
posted by davebush at 6:42 AM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm personally really, really tired of hearing people my age and older bitch and moan about how young people these days have it "too good".

I discuss this with an old friend of mine occasionally. We tend to come to the conclusion that kids these days have it way worse than we do. They have better toys, for the most part, but their lives seem scheduled and hemmed in in ways that ours never were, and this appears to have led to a deadening of their internal lives -- many of the young people I know appear to lack curiosity and the urge to do stuff for the sake of it ("I have a long afternoon and some old boxes -- I could be bored or I could make something dumb that will involve endangering myself with scissors!"). Now, our view is probably equally blinkered, but I don't think kids these days have it "too good."
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:43 AM on June 8, 2012 [29 favorites]


A misguided attempt to invoke "the special snowflake" as trope in order to seem profound--"Hey, you're not special! Now go out and try to be special! Try! You'll do great things!"

Pretty uninspiring.
posted by exlotuseater at 6:44 AM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


"We are sending you out into a world where you will carry a crushing debt, where there are few opportunities for you to get a job in your chosen field, and where you can expect to rent well into retirement, provided you can even retire. Because my generation ruined the economy. But you're all a bunch of attention-seeking coddled crybabies. You are nothing special. Have a great life!"
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:44 AM on June 8, 2012 [60 favorites]


Everything was better when it was all about people my age.
posted by Bummus at 6:45 AM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


I never understood the point in addressing the lives of the graduates themselves during a graduation speech. It's like they lost their speech on the plane and apologized, "But let's talk about you guys!"
posted by Brian B. at 6:45 AM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


You see, if everyone is special, then no one is.

It would be difficult to conceive of a more insidiously poisonous idea.


Pixar did, and they made it the laserlike focus of the bad guy in The Incredibles. This guy has a future in supervillany if only he can shake off his self-important english teacher facade and embrace that oped-writing-crazyperson he has growing inside him.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:45 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


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.

Who's idea was it to invite Evil Abed to give the commencement address? I really hope this guy was wearing a felt goatee while he was speaking.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:48 AM on June 8, 2012 [11 favorites]


There is a difference between "you are special" and "you can be special." As a veteran of about 15 seasons worth of coaching youth sports, I am painfully aware that many parents today don't understand the distinction.
posted by COD at 6:48 AM on June 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


The speaker at my PhD commencement ceremony took the opportunity to remind us all that we were nothing special. As if years of grad school leave you with a surplus of self-confidence.

And, while you can argue the value of PhDs (or any given degree for that matter), it's not like they are exactly common, so telling people that earning one doesn't make them special is... sort of silly.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:50 AM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Telling someone to check their ego at the door and then demanding that they be so filled with passion that they immediately seize life by the horns and only do work that they love is pretty contradictory. People who are passionate are usually egomaniacs, at least within the domain of their passion, though they get pretty good at disguising it. You think Picasso woke up every morning and thought, "I'm not special! My talents are non-existent! I'm part of the gray ooze that is humanity! Now, time to do some painting." Don't think so, pal.
posted by deathpanels at 6:51 AM on June 8, 2012 [17 favorites]


Beardman: "As if years of grad school leave you with a surplus of self-confidence."

Honest question: Is it possible to graduate with a PhD, and not be incredibly cynical and jaded?
posted by schmod at 6:52 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Picasso was cool and all. It's the hordes of fake it 'til you make it Pricassos that wear you down.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 6:52 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I too am tired of the perpetual idea that kids these days have it "too easy", are solipsistic, etc.

It's very easy to think - once you have some adult perspective and a little bit of security in life - that kids should have those things too, right now, because it is so obvious, right? It's very easy to forget your own stupidities and struggles, or to justify or minimize them. It's very satisfying to hector the youth because they aren't adults yet. And it's very satisfying to assure yourself that your generation isn't stupid and lazy and selfish, or at least is better than what comes after.

I put it down to fear of death, myself.

Generations change, culture changes, some people suck. Some kids are awful and selfish.

You know what? I grew up thinking that I wasn't shit. That was the way one was supposed to grow up - humble and obedient and waiting until adult power and decision-making were possible, meanwhile never getting to make a decision more significant than which shirt to wear. I grew up knowing that kids were dumb, adult standards were correct and that all adults had more knowledge and authority than all kids. Sure, I was deferential and polite, but...there was a pretty substantial cost. If kids today are getting a bit coddled on the self-esteem front - and I don't really know if that's true - is it any worse than the "adults say frog, I say 'how high'?" beliefs I grew up with? And if it's not worse but just different, then we shouldn't bitch about the kids so much, eh?
posted by Frowner at 6:53 AM on June 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


> better than average commencement address.

Talk about setting the bar low.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:53 AM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


Of course it's a bad commencement speech, it's from Wellesley High, for cripes sake!

Needham High, class of '94. Needham and Wellesley have the oldest public school football rivalry in the country. Go Rockets!
posted by Rock Steady at 6:54 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow. I think I read a different speech than a lot of people here. Sure, he says "you're not special" - but he's making a larger point, no?

He says we've gone accolade-crazy; to the point where the accolades mean more than actually accomplishing anything. It's insidious: to the point where they can't refer to their own school without the prefix "one of the best". Just because someone calls you special doesn't make you special. And if all you want is the title, it's pretty pointless, anyway.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:55 AM on June 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


The only people who ever told me in my life "Don't get above yourself, now," were always the ones who were not only wrong, but turned out to have some sort of crippling psychological issues. They're the same kind of people who tell you "Nothing can ever get better," "Don't rock the boat," etc. etc. They were never of any use whatsoever in helping me decide how to live my life.
posted by emjaybee at 6:56 AM on June 8, 2012 [15 favorites]


You see, if everyone is special, then no one is.
Yeah, agreed that this is a completely toxic idea. I hated it when it was the moral of The Incredibles

posted by overeducated_alligator


Most stories don't have their moral delivered by the villain. You and I watched different films.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:56 AM on June 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm 50, so you can factor that in to my observation that today's teen and 20-something crowd, really, really crave attention above all else.

Let's see - 35 years ago, that would be 1977. You know. 1977. Leather and safetypins as jewelry and foot-tall mohawks. Butterfly lapels and bell-bottoms and platform shoes and leisure suits and blow-dried mullets - for the guys. Disco and funk and pop-country. Vans with wizards painted on the side. The Me Generation.

Teens today - Some Of Them are Goths, the Rest Pretend to Be Nerds.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:58 AM on June 8, 2012 [7 favorites]




(they're not even very good goths, more like emo kids with more black in the wardrobe and spooky contact lenses.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:59 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


you’re nothing special.

And now the world would be just a tiny bit better if David McCullough Jr had taken his own advice. What's funny is that his high school, Wellesley High, advertises "cooperative and caring relationships."
posted by octobersurprise at 7:00 AM on June 8, 2012


Good god I wish someone had given this speech to me at some important juncture in my life. I was so completely consumed with the weight of being something magnificent, I was paralyzed.

What was my passion? What was it that I was supposed to do? WHO WAS I?! HOW WOULD I MAKE MY MARK ON THE WORLD?! Then I would freeze and turn inward.

I wish someone had absolved me of the need to Be or Build or Mark, and had exhorted me to just Live. I think my parents had tried. I was raised hearing the quote from Auntie Mame regularly: "Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!" But I didn't get it. I still have trouble with it to this day, thinking "I can't" or "I shouldn't," when I should instead be focusing on how to just do as much as possible that makes me happy.

This is a brilliant commencement speech, aside from being hilarious.
posted by jph at 7:04 AM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]



Yeah, agreed that this is a completely toxic idea. I hated it when it was the moral of The Incredibles (which has a pretty disgusting Ayn Rand streak), and I hate it in this commencement address.


no, that was the bad guy's idea
posted by MangyCarface at 7:09 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


The last line suggests there was a good intention behind this speech; unfortunately, the rest of the speech is tired old condescending bullshit. Why is it here. Why is it here.
posted by edheil at 7:11 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Weddings are one-sided and insufficiently effective. Weddings are bride-centric pageantry.

You're doing it wrong. Ours was very egalitarian.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 7:11 AM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


And then there’s the frequency of failure: statistics tell us half of you will get divorced. A winning percentage like that’ll get you last place in the American League East. The Baltimore Orioles do better than weddings.

Statistics say that the annual divorce rate is half the marriage rate, not that half of all married couples will divorce.

(Your understanding of statistics is not special)
posted by dirigibleman at 7:12 AM on June 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


It's too bad that he machine-gunned himself in the foot with the one-size-fits all approach, with the wedding derail, with the dissing of Mister Rogers and a few other things. Because he does have a few good points. Benny Andajetz caught the main one: That as a society we seem to embrace accolades over achievement.

McCullough didn't say that everyone is the same. He didn't say that nobody is any good. He said that whatever your achievements, there are probably a few thousand other folks out there who have done pretty much the same thing. So treasure the achievement, and not whether you get a trophy for it.
posted by Longtime Listener at 7:14 AM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Locally, someone... I forget who... from time to time encourages young scholars to carpe the heck out of the diem.

oh god he's talking about himself here, isn't he
posted by rollick at 7:15 AM on June 8, 2012 [12 favorites]


Yeah, yeah, it was the bad guy's idea in The Incredibles, but the good guys pretty much thought so too. That's why Dash was so frustrated because all the average kids at school were holding him back. He wanted to bowl over the other kids with his superpowers and not feel like he was being a jerk about it. In the end they let him, and we're supposed to be happy that he's finally getting to be superior.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:20 AM on June 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


It takes a pretty special English teacher to describe "pursuit" as a verb.
posted by yoink at 7:28 AM on June 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


no, that was the bad guy's idea

Helen: I can't believe you don't want to go to your own son's graduation.
Bob: It's not a graduation. He is moving from the 4th grade to the 5th grade.
Helen: It's a ceremony!
Bob: It's psychotic! They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity, but if someone is genuinely exceptional ...
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:29 AM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I liked it, mostly.

I got the same meaning as Benny Andajetz from "you're not special"... I see a lot of parents and schools training kids to expect accolades for every little thing, and for nothing at all. I guess I take it as "you're not special just for showing up; what are you going to DO with yourself that's special?" and that doesn't bother me.

I liked this:

Climb the mountain...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.

@mmmmbacon - I'm surprised nobody has answered this yet, but yes, it's grammar.
You only live once = all that you do is live (you do nothing else, only live).
You live only once = you live only one time.
posted by evilmomlady at 7:33 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


You have to consider the context. He is speaking to Wellesley High School graduates--that town is a very affluent suburb of Boston. Most of those kids are undeniably privileged. Most of them will never have to worry about crushing debt and most of them will never have to do work they don't believe in to keep a roof over their head. They have that privilege (and the wealth behind them to do what ever they want).

So I liked his speech. I thought his larger message was good. And I appreciated his snark...it probably resonated with this audience of 17 and 18 year old kids.

And we do live in a new "pornographic age" where many of us will seek fame and fortune at any cost, no matter how low you sink to get it. I have heard college students talk this way and it makes me sad. I am glad he said what he said to those students. They needed to hear it.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 7:34 AM on June 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: "It seems we have different definitions of "better than average"."

Yeah - this speech ain't anything special.
posted by symbioid at 7:36 AM on June 8, 2012


This is a brilliant commencement speech

To be charitable, his fundamental point—that human lives are brief and insignificant on the grandest scale of things and that learning how to just be is desirable—is sound enough and probably well-meant. It's just that it's A) delivered along with a load of free-associated nonsense, B) it's a rather funereal sentiment to deliver to graduating 17- or 18-year-olds, and C) it's still a cliché.

Commencement speeches are like wedding toasts and funeral elegies; they are intended to comfort the audience. Unless you really are a brilliant speaker (which this guy is not), don't try to be too funny or too profound.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:36 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do we really prize accolades over achievement? How would one prove this? (it's not enough to say that there are more accolades - not only can all kinds of forces drive this (marketing, fear of lawsuits) but that doesn't prove that accolades are valued over achievement).

What does it mean, anyway, to value achievement? Isn't part of valuing achievement found in achievement's social dimension? I have a relative who is a published author; he was unpublished for a long time, not even submitting stuff, just writing - but he's happier now that he has the "accolades" of actual publication and an audience. He valued the achievement of writing, but writing doesn't take place in a vacuum - it implies an audience.

You could even argue that the "achieve for achievement's sake" mentality of Nike advertising is bad, since it's about this sort of growth-for-the-sake-of-growth-cancer-cell-ideology rather than any kind of purpose. Climb the highest mountain! Why? Because it's important that everyone seek excellence!! Why? Because excellence is ipso facto excellent, I guess.

I would say that achievement only makes sense if it is in some way social - that's what defines it as achievement.
posted by Frowner at 7:42 AM on June 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


I lost him at the implication that the Orioles are .500 and in last place, because they're actually .561 and in first place. He should have said "the Boston Red Sox do better than weddings", gotten lynched, and not given the rest of the speech.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:42 AM on June 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


//Commencement speeches are like wedding toasts and funeral elegies; they are intended to comfort the audience. Unless you really are a brilliant speaker (which this guy is not), don't try to be too funny or too profound.//

So basically, you are saying commencement speeches should not be special? ;)

I appreciated that he tried to make it relevant. I suspect the kids will remember it better than they would the off-the-shelf go forth and conquer the world tripe that usually passes for a commencement address.
posted by COD at 7:43 AM on June 8, 2012



Does this speech get better?

Yes. Yes, it does:
....Like accolades ought to be, 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. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.
Because everyone is.

posted by SLC Mom at 7:47 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think this guy should have just held a Shadow Graduation and said, "If you like being lied to, stay put. For the rest of you, let's go live a little."
posted by jph at 7:48 AM on June 8, 2012


Damn, I'm still not doing the blockquote right.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:48 AM on June 8, 2012


i hope someone in that graduating class proves the son-of-a-bitch wrong

i learned one thing from this - that parrots can roller skate - alas, they don't do it very well
posted by pyramid termite at 7:59 AM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is one of the reasons I didn't bother attending my own graduation. I picked my diploma up out of the trunk of an administrator's Buick, and then folded it into my pocket and went back to the beach. Because I was a rebel. In my impoverished teenage mind, being good meant pretending like nothing mattered, so I chose apathy over action. I chose self-assured and well-researched proclamations as a path towards indifference instead of listening as a path towards enlightenment.

I like things like this:
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?” As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans.
Other parts I can take or leave. The biggest thing he's missing is the horrible fact that we never grow up. When I was in middle school I envied the cars and freedom of the high schoolers. When I was in high school I had the car and the job, but nothing felt finished. I decided the college students had it all figured out. So I tried college. But I dropped out — to my detriment — because it felt like high school, sitting in classes I didn't really see a point in, and I still didn't feel like I knew myself or what I was supposed to do.

And in some ways, that's how I still feel. I still yearn to know what I should be doing — for me, for my community, for my planet. I had accepted that, for me at least, that's what living is. Not knowing, changing, never having everything settled. Struggling with the passing of friends and family either through physical death or the simple trailing off of relationships. Watching some people triumph and others fail. Balancing my primate ethic with the one my brain desires, and wondering if they are different. Making mistakes. Letting people down. Lifting others up.

That's what I think the tragedy of some of our modern myths cause to the people who believe in them. Even if you do everything right, the universe is indifferent to your will. What you think is clockwork is chaos. Humans will never fail to surprise you in their cruelty or their humanity. Sometimes from the same being, and sometimes in the same moment.

Perhaps it's our evolutionary defense that gives us these rituals, this symbology designed to propagate the idea that some definite infinity or reality can be known to us as we grow up: as long as we Graduate and Succeed and Marry and Procreate, but that's simply not the case. I think even in the minds of the most successful, the most revered, the most respected remains the specter of self-doubt. Did I take the right path? Am I good, if good can exist? Are these really my friends? Does my spouse love me?

(Yes, now is the time to put on David Byrne.)

And in others, this manifests as hubris. I am good. I am on the right path. And without self-doubt their self-righteousness almost always leads to injustice for others. And so if there's one thing I would like to communicate to anyone, it would be that self-doubt is a sign that you are still practicing your humanity, and that's the best we can do. The alternative of contemptuousness that is strangling our society, which leads the successful chosen ones to fully believe that they alone deserve the fruits of living and learning and loving is the worst possible choice. It's the celebration of ideology that crushes the human spirit into empty talking points, and turns death and suffering into a statistical observation. It's what causes our planet to have an economic system that says I deserve to have 60 cubic feet of refrigerator with an automatic ice cube dispenser, while my neighbor starves.

Who knows. Perhaps the chosen ones are right and righteous. But I doubt it.
posted by deanklear at 8:00 AM on June 8, 2012 [11 favorites]


Colin Meloy's commencement address to the graduating class at this old high school in Montana.
posted by Danf at 8:01 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Deteriorata
posted by aught at 8:11 AM on June 8, 2012


Wow, I'm vicariously embarrassed for the speechwriter cause he is clearly trying so hard and tanks this is so very clever.
posted by The Whelk at 8:14 AM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


overeducated_alligator: "the moral of The Incredibles (which has a pretty disgusting Ayn Rand streak)"

blink, blink...? We're talking about the cartoon where a superfamily learns to work together towards common goals, when one member's selfish behaviors land him in terrible trouble? And then they all risk everything to save their community from a threat?
posted by IAmBroom at 8:16 AM on June 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


Boy did he strike a nerve. Look at the level of snark thrown at a guy who was trying to give his students one last lesson.
posted by karmiolz at 8:18 AM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I stopped listening to the old windbag who gave my university commencement speech when he started telling the story of The Ant and The Grasshopper. Also, it was hot in the gym and I was hung over.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:23 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Look at the level of snark thrown at a guy who was trying to give his students one last lesson.

Not all lessons are good lessons. The guy may give better lessons in the classroom, but this commencement speech is all we've got to go on.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:27 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I liked it.

Perhaps mefites would have enjoyed it more if he stressed that you have to spit endless amounts of vitriol and snark at everything you come across and judge a man's entire character and choice of career based on a single speech given to a bunch of high school students that you personally don't agree with.
posted by bondcliff at 8:29 AM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


The ant and the grasshopper.
posted by The Whelk at 8:31 AM on June 8, 2012


Yeah, yeah, it was the bad guy's idea in The Incredibles, but the good guys pretty much thought so too. That's why Dash was so frustrated because all the average kids at school were holding him back. He wanted to bowl over the other kids with his superpowers and not feel like he was being a jerk about it. In the end they let him, and we're supposed to be happy that he's finally getting to be superior.

That doesn't happen. Dash knows that he's faster than the other kids in the race, but he very clearly intentionally takes second place.

Bob: It's psychotic! They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity, but if someone is genuinely exceptional ...

And Bob is wrong, and he comes around on this. Dash and Bob express this idea early on in the story, and then later in the story they change their minds. It's called character development; a lot of stories use it to bring about dramatic satisfaction.

The thing that makes Rand a crappy philosopher is not the notion that some individuals are better than others; some people really are better. The thing that makes Rand's writing a morally vacant pile of garbage is the philosophy that those who are blessed with a superior personal resource (be that money, or intelligence, or physical superiority) don't have a responsibility to those who are not so fortunate. The Incredibles recognizes and points this out. It's about as far from Randian as a film can get.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 8:32 AM on June 8, 2012 [18 favorites]


I think it is a wonderful lesson. Find something that you are both passionate about and that you consider valuable. Work hard for the sake of the endeavour and not just the accolades. There is nothing innately special bou you that will take you anywhere you want to go in this world without effort. He also exhorts them to read as a matter of principle. Where is the bad lesson?
posted by karmiolz at 8:34 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perhaps it is time to do away with commencement speeches.
simply hand out diplomas with a Lots of Luck handshake.
posted by Postroad at 8:37 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


bondcliff: “Perhaps mefites would have enjoyed it more if he stressed that you have to spit endless amounts of vitriol and snark at everything you come across and judge a man's entire character and choice of career based on a single speech given to a bunch of high school students that you personally don't agree with.”

I thought that's exactly what he was stressing. There was more vitriol, bile, and condescension in this silly commencement speech than there is in most of my comments, and that's really saying something.
posted by koeselitz at 8:42 AM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Agree totally with Seymour Zamboni. For us local Bostonians, it's a good news article--Wellesley is well known around here for being one of the snootiest, wealthiest towns in the area.
posted by Melismata at 8:45 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Telling 18 years olds who go to Wellesley High not to be too full of themselves and work hard no equals vitriol, bile, and condescension. Anyone else think we need more teachers to stress this point in light of how angry the precious snowflakes are getting?
posted by karmiolz at 8:47 AM on June 8, 2012


I apologize, Parasite, I went back and watched that last scene, I think I misinterpreted it the first time I saw it -- I thought that in the end they told him to "make it close" to make it seem like he was only barely winning, not that he took second by a small margin.

What bothers me about The Incredibles though, which also bothers me about Harry Potter, is that it divides people according to things that they're pretty much born with. The superheroes in The Incredibles are categorically different from normal people, they're born that way. Same thing in Harry Potter -- you can be a wizard born to Muggle parents, but Muggles can never un-Muggle themselves. There's no concept of a world of normal people who become extraordinary. You're either born extraordinary (yeah, yeah, maybe you have to work at it too), or you're not (in which case no amount of work matters because you don't have "it").
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:49 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


When Ellen DeGeneres gave her address to Tulane's graduating class a few years ago, she started with the definition of commencement. She looked up the two parts in the dictionary. Common and Cement. Her address was neither common nor cement. This one is.
posted by Night_owl at 8:49 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


karmiolz: “Telling 18 years olds who go to Wellesley High not to be too full of themselves and work hard no equals vitriol, bile, and condescension. Anyone else think we need more teachers to stress this point in light of how angry the precious snowflakes are getting?”

Yes, sneering at everyone will win the argument! Wonderful!
posted by koeselitz at 8:51 AM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm shocked, just shocked, that a celebrity talk show host with an army of writers and researchers at her disposal gave a more entertaining commencement address than a high school teacher.

it's almost like she is, I don't know, special?
posted by COD at 8:53 AM on June 8, 2012


Good god I wish someone had given this speech to me at some important juncture in my life.

Just like the current grads, you wouldn't have paid any attention to it.
When you give any speech, the golden rule is "Know your aduience"...this guy didn't. If the room was full of cynical 50+ year olds, he would have got an ovation...commencemnt?...none of the kids give a fuck.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 8:55 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


COD: “it's almost like she is, I don't know, special?”

Try "not a condescending dimwit."
posted by koeselitz at 8:55 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


those who are blessed with a superior personal resource… have a responsibility to those who are not so fortunate.

Why?

What if the personal resource is the will and enthusiasm to work hard?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 8:55 AM on June 8, 2012


You see, if everyone is special, then no one is.

It would be difficult to conceive of a more insidiously poisonous idea.


blink, blink...? We're talking about the cartoon where a superfamily learns to work together towards common goals, when one member's selfish behaviors land him in terrible trouble? And then they all risk everything to save their community from a threat?

Regardless, of the (thin) front-end plot, Ayn Rand is at the heart of The Incredibles.

Syndrome doesn't say "If everyone is special, then no one is," he says, "Everyone will be special, and then no one is," i.e. his goal is to make everyone's powers equal. And he is the villain for wanting to become a superhero through technology rather than birthright? The nerve!

The idea of empowering normals with superpowers so that the superheroes would no longer be "special" is the idea the movie objects to. Only the specially born people have the capacity to control their superpowers and use them for good. ?!?!

The Incredibles most certainly assumes the conceit that "if everyone is special, no one is." It is a fucked-up Randian movie at its heart.

"The intensity with which 'The Incredibles' advances its central idea - it suggests a thorough, feverish immersion in both the history of American comic books and the philosophy of Ayn Rand - is startling" - A.O. Scott
posted by mrgrimm at 8:56 AM on June 8, 2012 [10 favorites]


That's why Dash was so frustrated because all the average kids at school were holding him back. He wanted to bowl over the other kids with his superpowers and not feel like he was being a jerk about it. In the end they let him, and we're supposed to be happy that he's finally getting to be superior.

Here's the ironic thing about this, and the whole "you are not a special snowflake," "if everyone's special nobody is" notion in general. There's no intrinsic reason why the idea of everyone being special should bother anybody. If you're happy with yourself and your uniqueness and what you're doing in life, what do you care if other people are equally happy and fulfilled in their own unique ways?

So, really, the only people who are upset by the idea of everyone being equally prized is people who think they're the truly special ones. It's the ones who crave the acknowledgment of their superiority who resent their inferiors crowding their spotlight. It's the people who relate to Dash because, obviously, they're the ones who stand above the mediocrities of the world, and chafe at being denied that status. So when they see other, lesser beings being granted "special snowflake" status, it bothers them because it diminishes the concept of specialness that should be reserved to them and, wait, if all these people who aren't special think they're special, what if I'm not actually that special either?

That's what really leapt out at me from this speech, this notion that "there can't be a best if everyone gets a trophy." The only reason to care about this stuff one way or another is if you're competitive and care a great deal about your standing in relation to other people. So it's actually for the most part the people who themselves probably need to be told that they're not as superior as they think they are, who are most concerned with telling other people how un-superior they are. Probably most of us are Dashes in our own minds, and it's pretty hateful to realize that you're just one of the majority of people out there who consider themselves above average.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 8:56 AM on June 8, 2012 [10 favorites]


"Better than average" is aiming pretty low when it comes to commencement addresses to the point where it is basically meaningless.
posted by Eekacat at 8:57 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


What bothers me about The Incredibles though, which also bothers me about Harry Potter, is that it divides people according to things that they're pretty much born with. The superheroes in The Incredibles are categorically different from normal people, they're born that way. Same thing in Harry Potter -- you can be a wizard born to Muggle parents, but Muggles can never un-Muggle themselves. There's no concept of a world of normal people who become extraordinary. You're either born extraordinary (yeah, yeah, maybe you have to work at it too), or you're not (in which case no amount of work matters because you don't have "it").

Syndrome was born completely ordinary, and he becomes extraordinary enough to wipe the floor with Bob (or any of the heroes, had they not worked together to stop him). That he was the villain is not really a failing of the story; he could have been a great force for good (and in fact tried to be at the start of the film) had Bob not been so incredibly short-sighted about his potential.

I can't speak to how this is handled in Harry Potter; I never got very far in that series.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 8:59 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


The world thought her dead, but every night vampire Sylvia Plath rises from her tomb to stalk the surviving members of her family! Only the resurrected Fred Rogers, now more machine than man, can save them!

Yes, please!
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:00 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Syndrome doesn't say "If everyone is special, then no one is," he says, "Everyone will be special, and then no one is," i.e. his goal is to make everyone's powers equal. And he is the villain for wanting to become a superhero through technology rather than birthright? The nerve!

The idea of empowering normals with superpowers so that the superheroes would no longer be "special" is the idea the movie objects to. Only the specially born people have the capacity to control their superpowers and use them for good. ?!?!


No, he's the villain because he's killing people and artificially endangering others in order to make himself look good. He has no intention of "making everyone equal" until he's had a lifetime of personal superiority and amassed a vast fortune by doing so. If his goal were equality, he'd have given everyone tech-based powers from the start.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 9:05 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


... and the speech, oh my god, wow. What a horrible start!

Weddings are one-sided and insufficiently effective. Weddings are bride-centric pageantry. Other than conceding to a list of unreasonable demands, the groom just stands there.

You know what I did for my wedding (a wedding that I wanted (though I would have preferred a smaller budget :))?

* planned the menu; scheduled the caterers;
* visited 5-6 locations to decide on a spot
* rented and set up the entire the audio system (wireless mics/dj setup)
* made 6 hours of playlists for pre-dinner, dinner, and dancing music
* wrote the ceremony
* designed and printed the invitations
* made the placecards
* wrote my vows
* hired transportation (bus) for guests
* etc. etc. etc.

and i know lots of other guys who've gotten married and done much (MUCH) more for their weddings. It's like the speaker is stuck in the 1950s or something.

(More than the obviously wrongness of the ignorant stereotype about weddings, what relevance do weddings have to high school students?)

... Is this one of those "so bad it's good" things or is the whole thing a long troll? OK, I'll give it a shot ...
posted by mrgrimm at 9:05 AM on June 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


Syndrome doesn't say "If everyone is special, then no one is," he says, "Everyone will be special, and then no one is," i.e. his goal is to make everyone's powers equal. And he is the villain for wanting to become a superhero through technology rather than birthright? The nerve!

The idea of empowering normals with superpowers so that the superheroes would no longer be "special" is the idea the movie objects to. Only the specially born people have the capacity to control their superpowers and use them for good. ?!?!


Sigh. The fact that people actually -- I presume in good faith -- read The Incredibles this way, as opposed to as "value your talents and appreciate the talents of others and don't trivialize them with self-esteem-boosting pablum" (or, as restated in the equally great Ratatouille, "not everyone can be a genius, but genius can come from everywhere") -- is really depressing.

Those two films -- along with Bird's The Iron Giant -- are among the most honest, uncondescending, and salutary movies for children, ever.
posted by eugenen at 9:07 AM on June 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


or, as restated in the equally great Ratatouille, "not everyone can be a genius, but genius can come from everywhere"

Sorry, here's the accurate quote: "Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere."
posted by eugenen at 9:08 AM on June 8, 2012


Do we really prize accolades over achievement? How would one prove this?

You personally may not, Frowner. I'd like to think I don't. But look around at the sheer number of "celebrities" who have not really done anything worth celebrating. People who are famous primarily for being famous.
posted by Longtime Listener at 9:12 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


What if the personal resource is the will and enthusiasm to work hard?

That's a very fortunate resource to have, and if you have it, then that is the personal resource that you have a responsiblity to put towards the good of others.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 9:18 AM on June 8, 2012


Parasite Unseen: "And he is the villain for wanting to become a superhero through technology rather than birthright? The nerve!"

Wow. You sure carried a lot of baggage into that movie. Did you have to buy extra tickets for those seats?

Randian or not, I liked the nice, caring Mr. Incredible better than the serial killer whom you propose should have been the "real" hero.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:19 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Probably a good thing to read after watching The Incredibles would be The Boys.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 9:19 AM on June 8, 2012


Wow. You sure carried a lot of baggage into that movie. Did you have to buy extra tickets for those seats?

Randian or not, I liked the nice, caring Mr. Incredible better than the serial killer whom you propose should have been the "real" hero.


Uh, dude, that bit you quoted wasn't me. It was something I quoted from someone else.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 9:24 AM on June 8, 2012


Probably a good thing to read after watching The Incredibles would be The Boys.

Wait, you have a problem with The Incredibles, and you think that the solution is a Garth Ennis pile of racism, misogyny and dick jokes?
posted by Parasite Unseen at 9:26 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait, you have a problem with The Incredibles, and you think that the solution is a Garth Ennis pile of racism, misogyny and dick jokes?

No no no, I just thought it was a funny juxtaposition, thematically.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 9:30 AM on June 8, 2012


I think one of the things that makes The Incredibles mature writing (and un-Randian dramatically, no matter where the writers stand philosophically), is that instead of telling you what to believe about hard questions, it makes you think about them yourselves, e.g. by having villains with partially valid ideas and heroes who make big mistakes. But, if instead of thinking "what are the answers?" you get stuck on "what is it trying to tell us the answers are!?!" then it still failed.
posted by roystgnr at 9:34 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


What if the personal resource is the will and enthusiasm to work hard?

That's a very fortunate resource to have, and if you have it, then that is the personal resource that you have a responsiblity to put towards the good of others.


But, why? For some people and some kinds of work, the whole incentive of labor — the satisfaction reaped — is personal rather than social. If you vilify such incentives so that people don't serve themselves, then I think these people would be less happy.

Is every hike taken alone, every personal research project, every meal cooked for one an evil act? In my opinion, man serving himself is a clear and honest good.

Ayn Rand was wrong to vilify all charity because charity springs forth from all men's souls. But, charity by obligation is evil. It is a hand reaching from the laying-about into the pockets of the standing, obstinately justifying itself.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:39 AM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


You think Picasso woke up every morning and thought, "I'm not special! My talents are non-existent! I'm part of the gray ooze that is humanity! Now, time to do some painting." Don't think so, pal.

"Contrary to what sometimes happens in music, miracle children do not exist in painting. What might be taken for a precocious genius is the genius of childhood. When the chold grows up, it disappears without a trace. It may happen that this boy will become a real painter someday, or even a great painter. But then he will have to begin everything again, from zero. As for me, I didn't have this genius. My first drawings could never be exhibited in an exhibition of children's drawings. The awkwardness and naivete of childhood were almost absent from them. I outgrew the period of that marvelous vision very rapidly. At that boy's age I was making drawings that were completely academic. Their precision, their exactitude, frightens me. My father was a professor of drawing, and it was probably he who pushed me prematurely in that direction." -- Picasso, 1966
posted by blucevalo at 9:39 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think one of the things that makes The Incredibles mature writing (and un-Randian dramatically, no matter where the writers stand philosophically), is that instead of telling you what to believe about hard questions, it makes you think about them yourselves, e.g. by having villains with partially valid ideas and heroes who make big mistakes.

It's been a while since I saw The Incredibles, but this was the impression I came away with, that we weren't necessarily meant to glean a message or life lessons from the heroes' attitudes, because the film makes clear that they were wrong about much of what they believed and said. Wasn't the main reason Syndrome became a villain is that Bob wouldn't take him seriously because he wasn't a born Super? Or am I remembering that wrong?
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 9:41 AM on June 8, 2012


I just saw this and haven't read all the comments. But I'm not all that enamored of it. I'm sure it took some amount of pluck to read this in Wellesley, but I think that the "you're nothing special" message is just the contemptuous flipside of the overly indulgent "You're VERY special" message. Both seem to me to be totally inadequate to asking people to step up to the work of personal growth, integrity and service that a good, fulfilling life demands.

I know that's the point he means to aim at, but the extreme tone just reads to me as symptomatic of an entire culture out of balance - just providing the alternate point of view for 10 minutes on a June Saturday will not recalibrate assumptions about our roles in life. 12 years of education and family life which could not produce a strong character can't be countered in a short address, no matter how winkingly face-slappy it is. And contempt is no more a promoter of personal growth than meaningless praise is.

Also, I can't help but think of the kids in that class who didn't have all the advantages of most of their classmates - they're there, they exist in that town - and of kids who, despite their advantages, suffer from neglect, abuse, loneliness, ostracism, or the demands for perfection that twist one's mind. These kids already feel extremely un-special despite the advantages visible externallly. The dropout and mental-health service use rate in high-end colleges, along with the general malaise and unhappiness one can easily observe when spending any time among affluent communities, argue against these advantages being a critical determinant of fulfilling lives.

People need every advantage in their favor to succeed, but advantages aren't sufficient in and of themselves. They also need healthy relationships and well-developed individual resources - what used to be called by the old-fashopned word "character." Even some communities very good at providing the 'advantages' are very bad at providing real character, and saying 'you're a dime a dozen' doesn't really do it either.
posted by Miko at 9:45 AM on June 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yeah, all you need to know about Brad Bird's political subtext is this:

In Paris, the home of Victor Hugo, he had a character explain that stealing bread is wrong, even if you're starving.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:53 AM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


An oldie but a goodie:

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great." -- Mark Twain
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 9:53 AM on June 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


Well. That's going to certainly help those depressives out there. Good job, you.
posted by LD Feral at 9:59 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I might add, by the way, that this is indisputably an "above average" commencement address. The average commencement speech is so mind-numbingly dull and cliche ridden that it makes you wish you could drive a spike into your brain (I've had to sit through more than my fair share of them). Even if I find it pretty perturbing that Wellesley High has an English teacher who thinks "pursuit" is a verb and who can't tell that "You Only Live Once" and "You Live Only Once" mean exactly the same thing, he has at least said something people can be bothered to argue about. That puts him in the top .01% of commencement speakers in my book.
posted by yoink at 10:00 AM on June 8, 2012


I'm pretty sure you cannot give a speech telling people they are not special without somehow coming across as someone who thinks you are.

I still like the Bill Watterson Kenyon College commencement address.
posted by 4ster at 10:00 AM on June 8, 2012


...which I meant to link.
posted by 4ster at 10:00 AM on June 8, 2012


You can be certain that tucked away in a corner of this English teacher's closet is a box containing an old unpublished manuscript of his "great American novel."
posted by perhapses at 10:01 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions

Except that he's not, actually, doing that. He's actually saying that the kids should all follow their dreams and do what they love (and all the other usual pablum of the commencement speech genre--I cannot tell you how many times I have heard those exact phrases uttered without a trace of irony in commencement speeches). He just gets there by a somewhat unconventional route.
posted by yoink at 10:01 AM on June 8, 2012


Slap*Happy: “In Paris, the home of Victor Hugo, he had a character explain that stealing bread is wrong, even if you're starving.”

I'm aware this is a bit off-topic, but – stealing bread is wrong even if you're starving. It's certainly preferable to starving, but it's still wrong. That's why it's tragic when people are forced to steal bread in order to keep from starving to death – because people who steal do themselves and their consciences a moral harm. And that's why in many circumstances it is a much greater moral wrong to create a situation in which people are forced to steal bread than it is to actually steal the bread.
posted by koeselitz at 10:07 AM on June 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


Reading this helped me realize why the Conan O'Brien or the Steve Jobs commencement speeches seem so good and this seems so middling. Both Conan and Jobs figured out the best thing they could do is tell a story about their own lives, a time when they learned something important about being an adult, and tell that story within the limits of its own applicability. There is a certain responsibility to giving a speech a bunch of people are forced to listen to on one of the most important days of their lives, and a big part of that responsibility is not soapboxing in such cliched ways.

Lessons like these:
As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds, I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about, lest you too find yourself on the wrong side of a Baltimore Orioles comparison. 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.
are as trite and overwrought as they are far too cursory to actually be instructive. Graduation shouldn't be a come-to-Jesus moment for living a substantive life, if for no other reason than it's a really ineffective tool toward that end.
posted by Apropos of Something at 10:09 AM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great." -- Mark Twain

The reverse can be true, too. I read an interview with a comic artist who had had a distinguished career in the 60s and 70s. They asked him about his influences, and he said Bob Kane's newspaper Batman strips. And the interviewer was "whaaa?" And the artist said that some of the newspaper artists were so good that all he could do was say "I will never be that accomplished." Bob Kane on the other hand, had stiff compositions and sometimes weird anatomy, so he figured "if this guy can make a living at drawing, I can, too."
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:11 AM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Video [12:45] of the commencement address.
posted by ericb at 10:14 AM on June 8, 2012


On a tangential note: when did Americans start calling graduation ceremonies "commencement"? Is the term used in any other English speaking country?
posted by yoink at 10:15 AM on June 8, 2012


Finally, someone tells ’em how it is
If you’re raising kids in the suburbs, you know: Too many of us both smother our kids and push them to compete hard for Harvard — starting in kindergarten.

David McCullough Jr., a long-time English teacher at leafy Wellesley High, took on our parental disorder in his graduation address there Friday. “You’re Not Special” — now posted at Bostonherald.com — is a speech to read and copy and hand out next fall at PTO. He’s nailed our epidemic neurosis perfectly.

.... Now, you might think those Wellesley grads who are able to travel to Guatemala, South Africa, Sri Lanka — wherever would wow Bowdoin or Stanford or Yale — would recoil at their beloved teacher’s frank analysis. Instead, I heard repeatedly yesterday that most loved his words. McCullough himself, a father of four, said yesterday he’s guilty, too, of being swept up in this madness. He told of parents spending thousands on college counselors, said attitudes were very different when he started teaching 26 years ago and speculated that a tough economy may play a role here. But whatever the cause, he said, non-stop, anxious competition has affected every part of school life.

Well known at Wellesley for his ’06 graduation address, when he told seniors to “carpe the heck out of every diem,” McCullough — the son of renowned historian David McCullough — ended his talk with typical, upbeat advice to work hard, find your passion, help others selflessly, etc. But he also said, “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.”

Bottom line: Kids in tough, poor towns have problems. Kids in tony towns have problems, too. I wonder, 20 or even 50 years from now, which set of problems — rich or poor — will make it harder for those kids to create McCullough’s “fulfilling” and “relevant” life.
posted by ericb at 10:19 AM on June 8, 2012


Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions

Except that he's not, actually, doing that.


I agree that his speech is a lot more nuanced than it's getting credit for in many of the responses (I guess the somewhat provocative title of this post doesn't help). I mean, he tells the students to "dream big." He's not trying to stomp on their sense of self so much to say something along the lines of "it's not all about you," which I think is a healthy message.

My objection to it is more along the lines of what Miko says above, that it's a tough-love message being directed at what amounts to a straw man composed of self-centered, highly privileged, elitist kids who need a reality check -- which I'm sure there are plenty of in his audience, but for those kids listening whose lives are a little more complicated, whose sense of self doesn't fall into the range he's addressing, I don't think the message comes across the way he perhaps intends.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 10:22 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


It sounds more like HE entered the world thinking that specialness was an exclusive club, and was sorely disappointed.

Well, his Dad is, after all, the renowned David McCullough.
posted by ericb at 10:24 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


If there's anything I hate more than tired cynics giving me Scared Straight "tellin it like it is" lectures about "how the REAL world works", it's ones that claim to be doing it it out of concern for me, vs. wrestling with their own bitterness.

Oh mommy and daddy aren't gonna be there to bail me out when the chips are down? Yeah, I figured that out a few years back, got anything else, you hack?
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:34 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Haha, total derail, but David McCullough came to speak to my history class when I was in college, and he had just published a new biography on one of the presidents. During the question and answer session, someone asked him what drew him to the presidents as subjects, and he answered: "The presidents of the United States are just... such... a DIVERSE group!"

And we all laughed, before realizing that he really thought that. Oops!
posted by jph at 10:35 AM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


And we all laughed, before realizing that he really thought that. Oops!

"Diversity" doesn't only mean diversity of socioeconomic or ethnic background. They can be diverse in personality, or talents, or approaches to the problems of the job etc. etc. etc.
posted by yoink at 10:39 AM on June 8, 2012


Wasn't that what we were all working so hard for? That the generation after us could have it better?

What? No! Is that what I am supposed to be doing?
posted by Hoopo at 10:42 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


The guy's YOLO vs. YLOO tirade is aggravating.

"In most cases only is a sentence adverb and qualifies the entire statement. When used in this way its natural position is before the verb, as in but now I only hear its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar. This word order is standard literary English and should be followed unless there is a very good reason for placing only somewhere else. ... It is not true that when only stands between the subject and the verb it qualifies the verb alone. One might as well argue that never qualifies saw rather than the full statement in I never saw a purple cow."

-Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage (1957).

"The word only is frequently positioned so that it attaches to the beginning of a larger constituent than its focus (and thus comes earlier), and that is often not just permissible but better. Ian Fleming's title You Only Live Twice was not copy-edited to You Live Only Twice. Why not? Because he knows how to write, and he didn't let an idiot copy-editor change his writing into mush, that's why."

-Geoff Pullum
posted by naju at 10:45 AM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


According to the complaints I've read on Metafilter, each generation is working hard to screw things up for the next.
posted by Longtime Listener at 10:46 AM on June 8, 2012


Some of Wellesley High's notable alums include: SNLer Jane Curtin, rocker Billy Squier, Hot Zone author Richard Preston, former New York Mets player Shaun Fitzmaurice and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone.
posted by ericb at 10:46 AM on June 8, 2012


Metafilter: each generation working hard to screw things up for the next.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 10:50 AM on June 8, 2012


Weddings are one-sided and insufficiently effective. Weddings are bride-centric pageantry.

You're doing it wrong. Ours was very egalitarian.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 7:11 AM on June 8 [2 favorites +] [!]
Well.
posted by byanyothername at 10:55 AM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


SNLer Jane Curtin, rocker Billy Squier, Hot Zone author Richard Preston, former New York Mets player Shaun Fitzmaurice and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone.

One of those folks is not very notable.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:58 AM on June 8, 2012


According to the complaints I've read on Metafilter, each generation is working hard to screw things up for the next.

in all honesty though--and I am not sure the demographics--but while the previous generation had its Mulroney, my generation seems to have blindly stumbled into the better part of a decade of Harper and we're doing no one any favors down the road here in Canada.
posted by Hoopo at 11:01 AM on June 8, 2012


According to the complaints I've read on Metafilter, each generation is working hard to screw things up for the next.

Except for those of us who've completed that work. Mission Accomplished!
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:05 AM on June 8, 2012


I'm aware this is a bit off-topic, but – stealing bread is wrong even if you're starving. It's certainly preferable to starving, but it's still wrong.

Then I'm afraid Mr. Bird has already skewed your thinking unforgivably. This sort of moral absolutism is very, very Randian - the Objectivist "A is A" moral algebra at work.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:07 AM on June 8, 2012


Most of those kids are undeniably privileged.

Yep. In the 2007 estimate, the median income for a household was $125,814, and the median income for a family was $155,539.
posted by ericb at 11:23 AM on June 8, 2012


You’ll note the founding fathers took pains to secure your inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–quite an active verb, “pursuit”–which leaves, I should think, little time for lying around watching parrots rollerskate on Youtube.
Watching parrots rollerskate on youtube brings me happiness.
Yeah, that is a pretty bizarre sentiment. It's as if he's saying it's somehow wrong to actually be happy, by, say, watching funny videos on youtube and being distracted by your troubles, you have to pursue, and work your ass off so that you can be 'wealthy' and 'successful' and if you fail (as 90% will) then you deserve to be miserable. Or something.
I'm personally really, really tired of hearing people my age and older bitch and moan about how young people these days have it "too good". Wasn't that what we were all working so hard for? That the generation after us could have it better? What's up with this sneering? And then to cap that off with some Hallmark bullshit about how to live, Christ dude, do you really wonder why kids don't listen to you?
Plus, it's not even true kids graduating and entering the workforce today, and perhaps for several more years are going to have it worse then their people from prior decades. Although they do get cellphones. Which is nice.
Except that some of them almost certainly are special. This is not someone I think should have influence over children, except maybe as a cautionary example. He's certainly nothing special otherwise.
And some of them no doubt have shitty lives. How shitty is it to give this speech when undoubtedly some of the kids in the audience come from broken homes, have abusive parents, etc. It's ridiculous.

He's obviously a pretty bitter person, jealous that these kids all have the potential to do great things, even if most wont.
posted by delmoi at 11:27 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everyone who was talking about the Incredibles confused me for a moment. Glancing at it quickly, I thought they said "The Invisibles," and so my brain had the phrase "The Invisibles (which has a vicious Ayn Rand streak)" in it and I was about to be, like...

WhatthehellareyoutalkingaboutdidyoureadthesamecomicNOWAY!
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 11:36 AM on June 8, 2012


me: “I'm aware this is a bit off-topic, but – stealing bread is wrong even if you're starving. It's certainly preferable to starving, but it's still wrong.”

Slap*Happy: “Then I'm afraid Mr. Bird has already skewed your thinking unforgivably. This sort of moral absolutism is very, very Randian - the Objectivist 'A is A' moral algebra at work.”

Huh? I'm not sure how that makes sense. First of all, I did not know Mr Bird before you mentioned him, and I have never seen any of his movies, so I don't think it's likely he's skewed my thinking. Second of all, admitting that life is complicated, and that sometimes people have to do things that are morally wrong in order to survive, is pretty much the opposite of "moral absolutism." Maybe I should elaborate by saying that I'm more Platonist in this than anything else, in the sense of Socrates' statement that "it is worse to do injustice than to suffer it." It is worse to steal than to be stolen from, and I don't pretend that anybody who is forced to steal to survive is happy about it. Stealing harms the soul. Which is why, as I said, it is often even more of a moral wrong to create a society in which some people are forced to steal in order to survive – because you are thereby harming all those people that you forced into being thieves. The unavoidable conclusion is that we have a responsibility to our society to make sure that people are not being put in situations in which they must steal to survive – we have a duty to work to make sure that people have the ability to continue living, even if that just means making sure they can find a way to earn their living.

I'm pretty sure I said four or five things up there that would make Ayn Rand shudder and cringe, but if you still think I'm being "very, very Randian," please enlighten me as to how. As I recall, Ayn Rand wasn't much of a moral absolutist, actually; she seems to have elevated the ego and selfish motives above all moral considerations whatsoever.
posted by koeselitz at 11:52 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


An English teacher did this? Jesus Christ. What a spectacularly bad piece of writing. My grandmother taught high school English for 30 years, and I'm going to email this to her, because when she's sends it back, it will be graded, with explanations of her corrections. When I see "weak thesis", which I'm almost certain I will, I will laugh delightedly, and perhaps try to forward it to the author himself.
posted by Athene at 11:54 AM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


... and perhaps try to forward it to the author himself.

You can e-mail him directly. His e-mail address is in the faculty directory.
posted by ericb at 12:01 PM on June 8, 2012


Ah, who gives a shit. I can't remember who gave my college commencement speech, let alone my high school one. Most of the kids were probably texting or playing angry birds on their cell phones anyway. And yes, this was poor writing, especially by an English teacher.
posted by Kokopuff at 12:19 PM on June 8, 2012


Postroad: Perhaps it is time to do away with commencement speeches.
simply hand out diplomas with a Lots of Luck handshake.


I like the way we did it in Germany. Everyone who passed the Abitur was rounded up, and we got a godsdamned PARADE. Then there was a champagne breakfast at school, followed by a day of partying at the castle with about half the town showing up to say Hi, Congratulations, Good Job, Let's Drink. The Headmaster's remarks at breakfast amounted to "Good job, kids, you worked hard and you deserve this celebration. Enjoy it, because working for a living sucks."

It was a much nicer sendoff than the heavily ritualized "inspirational" nonsense we were subjected to when Elder Monster graduated from high school last year. Ye gods, am I ever glad I "missed" that.
posted by MissySedai at 12:22 PM on June 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


My brother's high school commencement speech was given by Carl Sagan. I don't see how anything can beat that.
posted by naju at 12:44 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


MissySedai, I think you're confusing 'Germany' with 'the magical realm of Harry Potter.'
posted by Tevin at 1:22 PM on June 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole.
posted by Snyder at 1:28 PM on June 8, 2012


When I see "weak thesis", which I'm almost certain I will, I will laugh delightedly, and perhaps try to forward it to the author himself.

Doesn't seem quite necessary.

Anyway, I don't agree with it, but I didn't think it was so bad. It wasn't nearly as sneery as the little excerpt in the FPP suggests. I'm not sure whose idea it was to have it published in the Boston Herald, but it seems like a mistake to subject it to the whole world's scrutiny. It can't bear that.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 1:37 PM on June 8, 2012




Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole.

Indeed he was not.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:06 PM on June 8, 2012


That Jamaica Kincaid address is wonderful.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:14 PM on June 8, 2012


Come... dry your eyes, for you are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg. Come, dry your eyes. And let's go home
We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us
posted by fullerine at 2:16 PM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Tevin: MissySedai, I think you're confusing 'Germany' with 'the magical realm of Harry Potter.'

Aw, aren't you ADORABLE! You do understand that you can't swing a dead cat in Germany with hitting a castle, right? And that "castle" does not translate to "luxurious estate", but rather "big cold building made of stone, with arrow slits in", right? They tend to have big courtyards suitable for large gatherings, and often host museums full of implements of war.

No, pookie, when I sat for - and passed - the Abitur with my German classmates at the Burggymnasium Altena in 1988, we got a parade, a lovely champagne breakfast, and a great party thrown by the community at the castle our school was named for and was situated directly across from. The town's other castle had been converted into an art museum.

But, you know, no need to let facts get in the way of uninformed snark. Do carry on.
posted by MissySedai at 2:20 PM on June 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


two or three cars, I'm not sure if you mean to say that forwarding my grandma's corrections to the author is unnecessary, or that emailing this to her is.

As for the first, you are probably right. My thought was that it might make him a better teacher, but that's admittedly a longshot. About the second, trust me, my grandma and I laughing over the same silly-ass stuff is a total necessity.
posted by Athene at 2:28 PM on June 8, 2012


MissySedai What I meant by that was "that sounds amazing and I'm extremely jealous of your entire graduation experience especially in contrast to what is shaping up to be three terribly disappointing graduations of my own."

I absolutely believe you, it just sounds awesome. Snark free, even.
posted by Tevin at 2:38 PM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Marisa Stole the Precious Thing: I'm personally really, really tired of hearing people my age and older bitch and moan about how young people these days have it "too good". Wasn't that what we were all working so hard for? That the generation after us could have it better? What's up with this sneering? And then to cap that off with some Hallmark bullshit about how to live, Christ dude, do you really wonder why kids don't listen to you?

Yes, this, a thousand time, with heavy emphasis on bullshit. I'm sure Elder Monster would lay a big wet kiss on you for this.

My kids don't have it better than I did, not for lack of us trying. School is more about teaching to the tests than teaching anything worth learning, I'm so grateful that I only need to get Younger Monster through two more years of it. Elder Monsters attempts to find gainful employment were horrifying. When I was his age, jobs were abundant, you could walk out of one job and into another with little fuss. Not so for him - he scrabbled to find a job that would offer him more than 10 hours a week. When he finally found one, the company closed suddenly not long after he was hired. Then he went to another shop that gave him 40 hours a week...until they, too, went under. He found another job...that didn't have the hours to give to him. He finally found a steady job just before Christmas, but he's not moving out any time soon.

He just turned 20 on Tuesday, and he's frustrated as hell, and who can blame him? The world is uglier than it was when I was 20, and no amount of "inspirational" commencement twaddle is going to change that.
posted by MissySedai at 2:39 PM on June 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's ironic because the guy is still sugarcoating heavily. If he was really courageous, if he really wanted to speak truth and give the kids some perspective he'd tell them that they are all, in fact, likely fucked. I know I certainly wouldn't want to be graduating from highschool, starting from nothing, in an America that has become so inequal and so completely and utterly dysfunctional. If he had told them this, if he had told them the horrifying truth that they will likely be less free and have less quality of life than their parents, that it's quite probable that many of them had nothing to look for but decades of pointless wage slavery while the rich get ever richer, and that they were inheriting a set of institutions weren't simply broken but had been completely corrupted and were now actively hostile to human freedom ... if he had told them then I bet the reactions to the speech would have been a lot more interesting. No, this guys is a salesman, and he's selling much the same bullshit as all the other salesmen. Hopefully (though it's a long shot) the kids understand this and will seek out the truth for themselves.
posted by nixerman at 4:40 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I actually wrote about The Incredibles for a film education journal back in the day. Whilst acknowledging that the criticisms have some weight, in the end I gave thumbs up to the film for two reasons (one of which was fundamental to the general thrust of the piece, namely people arguing about childrens' texts on behalf of them, rather than seeing what children themselves think):

1. It's a negativist text in a lot of ways, it can be troubling, especially the idea that one family (read: America) is simply inherently better than others (read: rest of the world), and could do ever so much good against uniquely terrible enemies that only they can stop (read: terrorists) - if it wasn't being held back by petty bureaucracy and mediocrity (read: UN, EU). I think it asks those questions and makes viewers think about what the Parrs get right and what they get wrong.

2. And more importantly, a lot of discussion of The Incredibles is based around close-reading, but there's not a lot of reader-response analysis thrown in there. Who will kids watching the film identify with? The Parrs, of course. But the kids watching don't have any super-powers, and so the Parrs - from being an extraordinary family, become precisely every family, with everyday family anxieties and quirks propelling them (eg siblings fighting etc), which are indeed special in their own way. Kids watching, in the absence of stretchy limbs or super-strength, posit their own "specialness".

In this respect, the film is, as I say, negativist and actually subversive to its ostensible goals. As a piece of mass-entertainment it actually fulfills the purpose of making everyone feel special, despite the statements of characters etc. Kids watching the film aren't going to stop playing at being Dash after because there's only one Dash and they're not special enough. The film, ultimately, argues that you should feel special in your own life, and work to achieve your potential.

An interesting, complex film as I say, with much to offer child and adult alike.
posted by smoke at 5:15 PM on June 8, 2012


Tevin: What I meant by that was "that sounds amazing and I'm extremely jealous of your entire graduation experience especially in contrast to what is shaping up to be three terribly disappointing graduations of my own."

Then I apologize for and rescind the harshness of my reply. (I might still call you Pookie, though.)

And yes, it was amazing - one of the many things I adore about my ancestral homeland is the sensible nature of the place. Finishing school is supposed to be a happy, last fling sort of day before you have to go off and be a grown-up, rather than some faux-solemn occasion to give people one last chance to talk down to you and bore you to death with how awesome THEY are. One should go off and get blotto with the Headmaster and the teachers instead of sitting in some stuffy hall for a couple boring hours of sheer nonsense. Cap and gown and Pomp and Circumstance is a rite of passage? My fat ass.

The only reason I made Elder Monster walk at his graduation was because it would have deeply hurt his grandparents if he hadn't. They set great store by the commencement ritual. The same will hold for Younger Monster (especially since he's named for his grandfather.) He was annoyed, but ultimately fine with it because we threw him a huge backyard bash that lasted for two days and resulted in a week-long food coma. As is right and proper, AFAIC.
posted by MissySedai at 8:58 PM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


If I were graduating and I heard this speech, I'd probably forget about it the next day.

The grad speech done by Neil Gaimen posted a week ago, on the other hand, are still rattling around in there.
posted by hellojed at 11:06 PM on June 8, 2012


Incidentally, my favorite commencement speech was given by Utah Phillips, who said the following to a graduating high school class:
You’re about to be told one more time that you’re America’s most valuable natural resource. Have you seen what they do to valuable, natural resources? Have you seen a strip mine? Have you seen a clear-cut in a forest? Have you seen a polluted river? Don’t ever let them call you a valuable natural resource! They’re gonna strip mine your soul! They’re gonna clear-cut your best thoughts for the sake of profit, unless you learn to resist, ‘cause the profit system follows the path of least resistance, and following the path of least resistance is what makes the river crooked!
He was supposedly escorted out of the building shortly thereafter, or at least that's how he tells the story. Whether this happened or not, it's damn good advice for young people about what lies ahead and what they should look out for.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:44 AM on June 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yoink picked up on the part of this speech that will leave me depressed for the rest of the afternoon. You can call the rest of it condescending, snide, and toxic, but at least it's not straight-up false.
posted by ootandaboot at 11:42 AM on June 9, 2012


More To Wellesley Commencement Speech Than ‘You Are Not Special’ "The real message of David McCullough Jr.'s speech has been lost in the tsunami of press."
posted by ericb at 12:31 PM on June 12, 2012


CBS News interview (w/ video): Teacher Defends "You're Not Special" Speech.
posted by ericb at 12:32 PM on June 12, 2012


NBC Nightly News interview (w/ video): Teacher Behind Viral Graduation Video: 'Kids Have To Stumble' -- "David McCullough Jr. tells Nightly News it's important for teens to embrace failure rather than always striving to avoid it."
posted by ericb at 12:35 PM on June 12, 2012




the speech is even admired by Rush Limbaugh, who recently made it the subject of one of his frothing, free-verse rants.

Yeah, it's all too encouraging of that type of reaction from that type of lizard.

That cements my feelings.
posted by Miko at 10:03 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good comparison with the charter school though.
posted by Miko at 10:04 AM on June 14, 2012


"I remember my commencement address. I said, 'The only thing that defines you right now is the kind of car you drive. That's it.' I said, "You're gonna hear that you are the future of the world, that the world is now on your shoulders. That's bohunk."
posted by mrgrimm at 10:23 AM on June 14, 2012


Wellesley speech inspires contest.
posted by ericb at 10:29 AM on June 14, 2012


I think the Millennials are boned until the Gen-X'ers hit their 50's, when the slackers will finally be in positions of real power and influence in local and national politics as the boomers and post-boomers retire. We really should have stepped up sooner to make our voice known in the parties, as we tend to be fairly centrist and if not centrist at least mellow and willing to talk it out, but X-Box and beer happened, and we kind of got caught up in that. Our bad.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:57 AM on June 26, 2012


ha like people are allowed to retire.
posted by The Whelk at 11:01 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


The boomers aren't going to retire; that's why GenX gets to be hosed first. Wait your turn.
posted by Miko at 12:07 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


whew, well at least our children can inherit complete biosphere collapse. They'll teach the little rotters to think they're special.
posted by The Whelk at 12:12 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hell yes. Viggo Mortensen and I will roam the dead earth handing out cans of fruit cocktail to old bearded men.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:23 PM on June 26, 2012


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