Mark Grimm


“You Are Not Special” Speech: Rethinking Youth Culture

Is giving every kid a trophy really what’s best for them?

Wellesley High English teacher David McCullough, Jr. made headlines recently with commencement remarks that told graduates, “You are not special.” The point he was making relates to the way youth are, in his words, “pampered, cosseted, doted upon” while growing up.

Youth softball and soccer leagues that don’t even keep the score give trophies to all the kids. Does that make sense? What, exactly, are the trophies for? Showing up? Well, no one takes attendance either. We live in a culture that often is obsessed with telling every kid how great they are regardless of performance for fear of hurting their feelings. But I don’t think that creates self esteem. Doesn’t self esteem comes from resiliency — failing first at things, learning from our failures and finding the resolve to come back and succeed? That is the kind of achievement that builds confidence and fortitude.

Every parent feels their child is special, a gift from God to be cherished. Or at least they should. And each child has a special light within to be celebrated. But that is something different from “pretending” all performances are the same. They are not and that lesson that will be tougher to learn when they are ultimately faced with the “real world.”

There is the other extreme, of course. Overbearing parents demanding their eight-year-old deliver on the ball field. Fun and improvement should be complimentary goals, not opposing ones.

I think the best way to produce excellence is to acknowledge it when it really occurs. The pursuit of excellence is the path to fulfilling our full potential. McCullough was right to ask that our youth resist the “narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction.” Their futures, and ours, may depend on it.

The writer is an adjunct college professor who runs a communications company and has a young daughter active in youth sports.

How to Look Good in a Photo: You Can Do It!

Some people hate to be photographed. You may be one of them. But with smart phones,”digital everythings” and social media, there’s no longer a way to avoid it.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. First off, let’s get a grip. With the possible exception of Kate Middleton and a few others, we all have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to looks. So that leads us to step one: Highlight your good points, minimize your weaker ones.

2- Your expression makes the photo work. Be as natural as you can be under the circumstances. If you need to, think of something else that puts your mind in a particular place.

3- Don’t look straight into the camera like a mug shot. Angle your body to give the shot some dimension. Tilt your chin.

4- Give yourself many photos to choose from. With digital cameras, there’s no excuse these days not to do this.

5- Everybody falls into a winter, fall, summer, or spring category on complexion. Know what yours is and wear colors that work well. I’m a classic winter (dark hair, light complexion) so sharp contrast (black and white) works well, pastels do not.

6- Check your appearance first. Little distractions are easily fixed.

Of course, make-up is helpful but good photographs can be taken without it. Think of a photo as a moment in time rather than a fixed arrangement.

And, of course, smile. It’s an “inexpensive way to change your looks (1).”

The writer is a former TV anchor who does on-camera performing and print modeling.