Commencement is life's great ceremonial beginning, with its own attendant and highly appropriate symbolism. Here we are on a literal level palying field. That matters. That says something. And your ceremonial costume is shapeless, uniform, one-size-fits-all. Whaterver male or female, tall or short, sholar or slacker, each of you is dressed, you'll notice, exactly the same. And your diploma, but for your name, are exactly the same.
All of this is as it should be, because one of you is special.
You are not special. You are not exceptional.
The empirical evidence is everywhere. Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are gradudating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. Even if you are one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you. You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. We have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.
It is an epidemic-and in its way, not even dear old Wellesley High is immune...one of the best of the 37,000 nationwide, Wellesley High School...where good is no longer good enough, where a B is the new C, and the midlevel curriculum is called advanced College Placement. And I hope you caught me when I said "one of the best". I said "one of the best" so we can feel better about ourselves, so we can bask in a little easy distiction, howerver vague and unverifiable. But the phrase defies logic. By definition, there can be only one best. You are it you you are not.
if you have learnt anything in your years here I hope it is that education should be for, rather than material advantage, the exhilaration of learning. You've learned, too, I hope, that Wisdom is the chief element of happiness. I also hope you have learnt enough to recognize how little you know now, at the moment, for taoday is just the beginning. It is where you go from here that matters.
As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds, i urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction.
And read...read all the time...read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect. Read as a nourishing staple of life. Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it. Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer.
Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct. It is what happens when you are thinking about more important things. Climb the moutain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.
Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they bring you, but for the good they will do others. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you are not special.
Because everyone is.