Everyone is Special: AKA No one is

So, I’d been earmarked to speak at this year’s graduation ceremony and, me being me, I wrote a little something at a very early stage. Roughly half way through last term senior management overruled the year coordinator and told him they want an external person to do the keynote presentation. I was a little bummed but I totally understood where the school was coming from. Anyway… I’ve spent a couple of days reflecting on what I do in the classroom and this process brought me back to this draft. I thought I’d share it, or at least an edited version of it. What I’ve removed is the more personal context, the stuff that explicitly linked into people or classes. Here you go:

“Thank you for the kind introduction…

[stuff removed]

So, before I get stuck into the part of the speech where I take the opportunity to steal the spotlight and make this all about me, can we celebrate the graduating class of 2015 with a small round of applause.

Ok, now… These speeches tend to follow one of two paths. One is to tell you all that you are special, that (in the wise words of Dr Seuss) “there is no one alive that is youer than you”. The second option is to tell you that you’re not special at all, that if you are 1 in a million there are over 7 thousand people on this earth that are exactly like you.

I will tell you both things are true. Within each of you is the capacity for the extraordinary as well as the ordinary. It is up to you to decide which path you take.

Indulge me for a little while I tell you a story about my life in the hope that you learn from my journey. (Omit – too wanky?)

I was never the ideal student. So when I told my career counselor I wanted to be an English teacher she laughed at me.

Let me tell you, at certain points in your life, the most motivational thing you can hear is these 4 words: “you can’t do that.” Look at me now.

It wasn’t easy but that’s the point of this story. If you want something in life, if you really want it, it’s yours – but good things rarely come easy.

In year 12 I was distracted by girls and social events. I drastically underperformed in my ATAR (or TEE as it was called then). The only university that would have me was the Murdoch campus in Rockingham and they only wanted me because they were new and lacked numbers.

I enrolled in a tourism course but I didn’t last a full semester. I worked a series of crap jobs until I heard the Midland annex of ECU were offering places and I started a degree in early childhood studies and creative writing before using my results there to transfer into teaching.

I didn’t have my parents’ support so in order to survive uni I slept in my car, couch hopped or walked the 16kms home uphill from Kelmscott train station.

I almost didn’t make it. One subject per semester would always suffer, scraping through with a grade just good enough to pass. I even failed one of my teaching placements. But I stand before you now as the Associate Dean of English and one of a small percentage of teachers with Level 3 Classroom Teacher status.

I’m pretty good at my job too. You know, if I do say so myself.

But I’m not special.

There is not a single thing that defines me that is not done better by someone else I know. I’ve met better teachers, fathers, husbands and writers.

I am not special… but some people will tell you different.

None of you are special either but each of you will touch other people’s lives in a way that only you can. Your family, your friends, your future colleagues – these people will see value in you that you might not recognize in yourself. I see value in many of you that you do not see in yourself.

Not everyone will be in your corner. As the song goes, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate”. Someone will tell you, “you can’t do that.” And if they do, you just need to shake it off. You don’t want that negativity to stick to you but you should use it as motivation. Prove them wrong.

You guys can be anything you want to be. You will face challenges but the greatest obstacle you will face is your own attitude. Negativity begets negativity. Your attitude, however, is also your greatest asset. If you can remain positive in the face of adversity then you are more likely to have success.

You might not get into uni straight away. You might not get the first or second or third job you apply for. It’s a tough world out there, you are going to have to fight for what you want.

This – graduating – this is you entering the ring. Carpe diem is not enough. Carpe jugulum, seize the jugular. You got this! I have absolute faith in you; you can do anything.

So please, ladies and gentlemen, join me in ushering these young adults into the next phase of their lives. I give you the graduating class of 2015.”

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