David McCullough, Jr., a graduate of Lafayette College and the Bread Loaf School of English, taught for sixteen years at Punahou School in Honolulu, and has taught at Wellesley High School near Boston since 2002. His 2012 commencement speech there quickly went viral and became something of a national and international sensation. In April he published You Are Not Special and Other Encouragements (Ecco), an elaboration on the speech in book form for teenagers and anyone with an interest in them. McCullough is an excellent speaker for schools and universities, corporations, and parent associations.
Dubbed “You Are Not Special,” McCullough’s commencement speech arose from a growing concern--based on nearly thirty years in the classroom and twenty as a parent--that high school students are too often sacrificing for-its-own-sake engagement in the moment for specious notions of success down the road. Thanks to years of adult indulgence, micro-management and too-easily-won laurels, many of today’s young people are under-prepared for life’s challenges and suffering an inflated sense of themselves. As a result, their ambitions, assumptions and expectations--and those of their parents--their notions of the world and where and how they intend to fit in, have gone awry.
Both personal and objective, from the point of view of a teacher, a father of four, a son and a former teenager, McCullough’s book explores how, and for what purpose, and for whose sake, we’re raising our children. You Are Not Special and Other Encouragements is one man’s observations of and thoughts about a teenage universe that includes hovering parents, overburdened schools, preparing--and positioning--for college, electronic distractions, club sports, the manifestations, applications and consequences of privilege, the theory and practice of education. The book is insightful, witty, engaging and useful.
McCullough has appeared on CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox, NPR and PBS. He lives with his wife Janice and their children in Sudbury, Massachusetts.
Praise for You Are Not Special:
“Every once in a long while, a voice seems to come out of nowhere, and you wonder how you ever managed without [it]. David McCullough, Jr. has that startling, insightful, wry, reassuring, helpful voice and You Are Not Special may be the wisest ‘parenting’ book I’ve read in decades.”
— Madeline Levine, author of author of The Price of Privilege and Teach Your Children Well
“A clear-eyed but affectionate polemic urging kids to stop trying to be perfect and to take chances, even at the risk of failing. A profound celebration of the life well lived.”
— Clayton Christensen, author of How Will You Measure Your Life?
“…a success. May its salvos ring from Cambridge and Arlington to the hinterlands of Wellesley, Weston, and Way-wayland. You Are Not Special is also big-hearted - and clearly forged in a hearth of caring, doubt, and fear. Aphorisms could be lifted from every page and blossom into memes.”
— Boston Globe
"Longtime high school English teacher McCullough scores an A+ with this volume for teens and parents. Rich in literary references and poetic in cadence, the author also offers plenty of hilarious and pointed comments on teens and today’s society. The immediate inspiration for the book is the commencement address that McCullough gave at his high school in 2012. He coyly saves the speech itself until the afterword but readers need not worry. From the start, he examines the odd situation of teens who have every advantage but “[a]t some level[…]understand you can’t ride the chairlift and call yourself Edmund Hillary.” Teens are cosseted by well-meaning parents and bombarded with the “nitwittery” of social media, notes McCullough, and generally so focused on collecting accolades and laurels to boost their chances of getting into college that they miss the point. According to the author, “these indulged kids, our kids, could be, should be part of the solution for a planet in sore need.” As he wisely notes: “When at last the electricity in your few pounds of gelatinous stuff sputters out for good, that’s that,” thus all readers must take pleasure in this fleeting life."
— Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“…to open You Are Not Special…and Other Encouragements is to enter a deeply intellectual and thought-out analysis of the forces that shape modern teenage life, both at home and in the classroom. Writing informally, with commas and paragraph-long sentences galore (as well as extensive use of words like “galore”), McCullough delves into everything from athletics, college admissions, and parent-teenager relations to race, grades, and economic status . . . Even if you didn’t agree with McCullough’s speech, this is essential reading.”
— The Swellesley Report
“The author tackles big issues ... with searching sincerity, open-heartedness, and a deft, light touch.”
— Kirkus (Starred Review)