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You Are Not Special:...And Other Encouragements

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Overview

David McCullough, Jr.'s high school commencement address of 2012, dubbed "You Are Not Special," was a tonic for children, parents, and educators alike. With wit and a perspective earned from raising four children and teaching high school students for nearly thirty years, McCullough expands on his speech—taking a hard look at hovering parents, questionable educational goals, professional college prep, electronic distractions, and club sports—and advocates for a life of passionate...

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You Are Not Special

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Overview

David McCullough, Jr.'s high school commencement address of 2012, dubbed "You Are Not Special," was a tonic for children, parents, and educators alike. With wit and a perspective earned from raising four children and teaching high school students for nearly thirty years, McCullough expands on his speech—taking a hard look at hovering parents, questionable educational goals, professional college prep, electronic distractions, and club sports—and advocates for a life of passionate engagement.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Every year, thousands of high school and college commencement speakers deliver ringing homilies about climbing the ladder of personal success. At Massachusetts's Wellesley High School, David McCullough, Jr., delivered a graduation message so different from such moral uplift that it soon became a viral sensation. This mild-mannered high school teacher made a sensation by suggesting that graduates seek involvement with life, not grasp after corporate success or stardom. For many parents and graduates, this tough love talk struck a chord of deep agreement. (P.S. McCullough is the son of famed historian David McCullough.)

Library Journal - Audio
10/10/2014
The genesis of this book was McCullough's 2012 commencement address to a high school class, which was recorded (ow.ly/CsQ1h) and went viral. The essential message of both this book and that speech concerns austerity and realism—your life so far may have taught you that success is easy, but it doesn't really work that way. While this exceedingly well-written book draws on a massive vocabulary and deep knowledge of literature, much of the first third is cranky, even discouraging. The occasional wisdom of the rest is often buried under rambling exposition and abandoned tangents. While the book's conversational tone translates quite well to audio format, and McCullough's narration is erudite and even-toned, the author is too taken with his own writing to be effective.
Verdict Only the most dedicated listeners will slog through the full eight hours.—Douglas C. Lord, New Britain P.L., CT

(c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Boston Globe
“…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.”
The Swellesley Report
“…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. . . Even if you didn’t agree with McCullough’s speech, this is essential reading.”
Clayton Christensen
“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.”
Madeline Levine
“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.”
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-03-12
The cult of exceptionalism, like celebrity worship, is draining us of our humanity and joy, suggests high school teacher McCullough, whose expertise comes from having nearly three decades of teaching experience and four children of his own. The author, son of the acclaimed historian, moves through the world with his eyes open, willingly empathetic to those deserving and dedicated to doing the right thing in all cases. In this book, an expansion of a 2012 commencement speech, he writes with crisp precision and light humor ("this was before Al Gore invented the Internet"). McCullough discusses the importance of authority figures' butting out, letting kids govern their engagement with life and learn through trial and error. As he notes, we all fail, but we must get up and get back into the scrum, not allowing our expectations to cripple us. "Parents, you see, are people, subject to self-doubt, who don't always have every answer, who are doing the best they can," he writes. "And we are only as happy, generally, as our least happy child, only as successful as our least successful child." McCullough ably conveys his genuine love of teaching, as well as its ups and downs, and demonstrates the significance of encouraging independence and the impulse to explore and take risks and discover those things that touch you deeply. He also digs into the perils of technology, "the breathless infatuation with hi-def, 3D, 5G, glued to the hand, glued to the ear, twenty-first-century cyber gee-whizzery." The author tackles big issues, such as gender and race, with searching sincerity, open-heartedness, and a deft, light touch. "I like to imagine," he writes, "[parents and teenagers] putting [this book] down…and reaching for another book, then maybe another, and, before long, getting up, heading out, taking great happy lungfuls of air, eager to do some good." Neither sage nor curmudgeon, McCullough is a thoughtful pre-Socratic without a schadenfreude-soaked bone in his body.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062338280
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/22/2014
  • Format: CD
  • Pages: 7
  • Sales rank: 958,518
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 5.70 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

David McCullough Jr.

David McCullough, Jr.'s high school commencement address of 2012, dubbed "You Are Not Special," was a tonic for children, parents, and educators alike. With wit and a perspective earned from raising four children and teaching high school students for nearly thirty years, McCullough expands on his speech—taking a hard look at hovering parents, questionable educational goals, professional college prep, electronic distractions, and club sports—and advocates for a life of passionate engagement.

David McCullough, Jr.'s high school commencement address of 2012, dubbed "You Are Not Special," was a tonic for children, parents, and educators alike. With wit and a perspective earned from raising four children and teaching high school students for nearly thirty years, McCullough expands on his speech—taking a hard look at hovering parents, questionable educational goals, professional college prep, electronic distractions, and club sports—and advocates for a life of passionate engagement.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 4 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2014

    A brilliant, insightful and articulate author, with a premise I

    A brilliant, insightful and articulate author, with a premise I don't like as regards this book. Millions of American children get little or no validation or encouragement from the parents and teachers who are supposed to provide it to them. And the problem is that there is too much indulging and "helicoptering" for American children? Perhaps for some. For many others, parents and teachers have failed to be nurturing. If you cannot on some occasion look into your child's face -- or student's face -- and say, "You are special, magnificent, wonderful, and all the world awaits you," then you should have remained single or found another calling. Because that is precisely what many of our children need to hear. For many, the encouragement and hope they derive from a parent or teacher is what they will survive on for the rest of their lifetime. And it comes across as passive aggressive behavior to toss at them: "You are NOT special." Yes, David, you are a writer amongst writers. And a man among men. And an intellectual head and shoulders above most intellectuals. But it also would appear you needed affirmation from your own parents that you did not receive. You obviously turned out just fine. The same isn't always going to be true for others.

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 29, 2014

    Having spent over fifty years in public education this book shou

    Having spent over fifty years in public education this book should be read by every student and parent and most pf all by POLITICIANS who set the regulations for public education knowing little and understanding less about what they preach. If the Feds and State would get out of education and leave it to educators our public schools would be much more respected. This was an excellent book written by a man who spoke the truth and wasn't concerned with political correctness. Unless one has been in the classroom and experienced what teaching is al about it its impossible to understand the child. Unfortunately the only time any politician has been in a public school classroom is for a photo shoot. Does this book apply to all students and parents? No, but far to many. We all feel we are the exception to the rule whether it be smoking, drugs etc. but the best thing a student or parent could do after readng this book is look in a mirror to see if it pertains to you and face reality.


    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 19, 2014

    I grew up in the world of privilege Mr. McCullough describes, bu

    I grew up in the world of privilege Mr. McCullough describes, but only because my childhood home was located inside an upper middle class school district. I was also a victim of some pretty horrific abuse as a child, the details of which can and should remain private. With a mutilated body and soul, I was reduced to being terrified as graduation approached, terrified of going out into the world to make my own way, because I'd been dehumanized to a point where I did not believe there was any chance I could survive on my own. At the commencement, we received an address similar to Mr. McCullough's. Although I was sitting amongst the pampered and the privileged, it was the exact opposite of what I personally needed to hear. So I stayed at home in the literally horrific conditions I'd grown up in, and failed to launch into life. Several years later, my paternal grandmother asked to speak to me. Having some inkling of the environment I'd grown up in, she held my face in her hands and told me I was indeed special, created in God's image, and the owner of a unlimited potential that I needed to share with the rest of the world. Of course it was baloney, but it was what I needed to hear. I launched, and have done just fine. Amazing what impact a few minutes can have on a person's life. For the sake of those like me, please let commencement addresses be a sacred cow; let it be the one event where we don't practice tough love and pragmatism. Let it be the event where dreams remain safe, encouraged and praised and promoted.
    This is a powerful and wise and incisive book, and it raises many important issues, but I listened to an audio tape of portions of Mr. McCullough's commencement speech, and while I heard laughter on occasion from the audience, it was joyless, nervous laughter. We need to let graduation ceremonies remain occasions of joy. The difficulties and hardships of life present themselves soon enough, and without fail. We discover soon enough that most of us are just faces in the crowd. We should still be launched on our journey with words of praise and encouragement..

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2014

    An interesting and engrossing look at the world we privileged ra

    An interesting and engrossing look at the world we privileged raise our kids in and the pressures us and they face to be "the best". For me, it has been life changing. 
    Highly, highly recommended. If you have a teen in your life, get them this book. My guess is, it may be a life changing book for them also! 

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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