Looking back on high school graduation, you can probably remember countless “Ooohs” and “Ahhhs” that followed sharing your decision to attend Boston College with friends and family. Amidst the praise and compliments, you probably felt pretty special. But, as one Wellesley High School English teacher recently pointed out to his graduating class, you are not very special. If anything, the statistics tell us this, and David McCullough Jr. did not hesitate to remind his students of this: “Even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you,” he noted in his speech.
While it may seem like a pessimistic, uncertain way to go about life, McCullough showed how abandoning our idea of being “special” can actually lead to a more fulfilling life. As students of Boston College, we have been told countless times that we are special by our teachers, our parents, our coaches, by Forbes Magazine and more. But, are we really? And more importantly, does it matter?
Even BC's campus on a cool spring day reminds us that we are exceptional. Surely no other campus is this beautiful. Surely no other school is this well rounded. Our school is praiseworthy. But as McCullough notes, our accomplishment is not that we attend such a high caliber school, but rather what we make from our experience. In high school, we worked day in and day out to become varsity sports captains, student council presidents and National Merit Scholars. While we all probably learned valuable lessons through these accolades, there remained a voice in our heads constantly reminding us to do more, strive for better, or add one more accomplishment to our college applications.
These pressures did not stop as we threw our caps into the air. Now, instead of college applications, we work to perfect our resumes. We struggle to set ourselves apart from the millions of other bright-eyed students thirsting for the same dream job. In doing so, McCullough warns we often lose sight of what it truly means to live a worthy life. Focusing so much time on self-achievement, on reaching that next step, limits us from absorbing the world around us at that moment. Success is great, but when it interferes with our creativity, freedom and happiness, the greatness begins to fade.
As college students, we are malleable. In discovering our desires and our fears, we change. We should be reveling in the days, instead of accepting the mundane. We should be enjoying our adventures because they are adventures, not because they are items on our “to-do” lists. We should abandon the desire to be special, and accept the idea of being ourselves. We shouldn’t obsess over the ribbons or rewards, the acceptance letters or promotions. When accepting that internship, accept it because you will enjoy the time you put in, instead of it simply being another line on your resume. Finally, trust that old cliché that speaks not to the destination, but to the journey. In the wise words of McCullough, “Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view.” So get climbing Eagles, you can bet the view is pretty great.