You still aren’t special: reflections from a senior


Nina Heller

Teenagers have been told their whole lives that they are special. However, being special just isn’t special.

Nina Heller, Staff Writer

“You’re not special.”

Many of us at Carlmont were welcomed into high school at the beginning of our freshman year with this mantra: You’re not special.

I’m now at the beginning of my senior year, and this is one of the most concrete memories I have from my freshman year.  

Freshman AS English 1 students at Carlmont began their school year by reading a speech from David McCullough Jr., a high school teacher at Wellesley High School. In 2012, McCullough gave the commencement speech.

His main message?

You’re not special.

It was a startling awakening, this being one of the first real-life lessons that high school taught me.

However, since freshman year, this has also been one of the most important lessons that high school has taught me.

On the surface, this sounds rough, brash, and too harsh for a group of students who have only just begun their time in the pressure cooker that is high school.  

However, upon a deeper look, being told that one is not special is an equalizer. It can make a classroom bully, a football player, and the most intimidating of high school cliques seem just a bit more human.

Contrary to what your U-9 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.”

— David McCullough Jr.


The fact that we aren’t special is something that would make the world a better place if more people remembered it. In the time of college applications and standardized testing, the concept of being ordinary has been abandoned, with everyone in search of being extraordinary.

Go ahead, celebrate the fact that you got a 1500 on the SAT on your first try. But you should also remember to celebrate how ordinary you are too.

One walk down the hallways of Carlmont High School, and an outside observer will notice the necessity to be exceptional. But we are so focused on being extraordinary that we have forgotten to be focused on being ordinary.  

McCullough Jr. reminds us that many of the things we do in life have become for the materialistic advantage and not for the personal gain, that we seek activities for their spot on our resume but not for their place of becoming a fond memory or an experience for personal growth.

Princeton University, according to its website, had 35,370 applicants for the class of 2022 and admitted 1,941 of those students.  That comes out to 5.5 percent. 14,273 of those students had a 4.0 GPA.

Those students are exceptional and should be proud of their achievements, no doubt about it. But still, none of them are special.

This isn’t to suggest that we should not strive to be unique individuals with potential in this world, but rather that when we do, to remember that all of our high school diplomas carry the same weight, that we accept them all wearing the same clothes, and that at the end of the day, we are all the same.

Our friend groups, clothes, and hairstyles may have all changed since freshman year, but not much else about us has changed.

Even though we all think we have changed significantly since freshman year, we really have not changed much, because we still are not special.