Rachel Marsden
The English-teacher son of a Pulitzer Prize winner gave a much-ballyhooed commencement speech recently to students graduating from an American high school that one might categorize as privileged. David McCullough Jr., a teacher at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts and the son of the Pulitzer-winning historian David McCullough, began by comparing the "great forward-looking ceremony" to another kind of ceremony, weddings, before promptly dismissing both as overhyped. It was the first sign that the speech would turn out to be one big reality check.

While to some, McCullough might have come across a misanthropic jerk, he barely scratched the surface of Western societal problems that are growing increasingly and worryingly prevalent, and the reasons why this is occurring.

I don't care what Dr. Benjamin Spock and all the recent purveyors of self-esteem psychology say: There's no greater motivator in life than being convinced that you can do better, as opposed to believing that you're already sufficient. And there's no better way to build self-confidence than by making a kid -- or an adult, for that matter -- earn something after spending considerable time failing to attain it.

This is done by placing them in a position of losing and making them clamber their way to the top, whether it be in sports or academics. Socially, this can be achieved not by keeping kids in a bubble with selected friends who think they're "OMG! Sooooo amazing!" but by making them interact with a wide variety of people, many of whom believe strongly in their inadequacy. Then perhaps they won't be so shocked when they graduate and don't have an employer knocking at their door with a $250,000 annual contract in hand, and maybe their self-worth won't be built on a dodgy foundation largely dependent on shoring-up from outside forces.

Being genuinely special is a lot like being sane, in the sense that the ones who truly are constantly question whether that's indeed the case.

I was fortunate enough to believe that success was something to be earned and proven. My own high school graduation was such a non-event that one of my classmates played a song on his guitar during the ceremony, and one of my best pals disappeared halfway through only to come back with an armful of Super Big Gulps to pass around. I can't say that my university commencements were any more meaningful. I left halfway through the ceremony for my first degree because I had to run off to a postgraduate class. And I skipped my graduate-school commencement entirely because I was already busy working out of the country.

Rachel Marsden

Rachel Marsden is a columnist with Human Events Magazine, and Editor-In-Chief of GrandCentralPolitical News Syndicate.
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