(Written in 2012 for the Boston Globe after our website crashed after being the first to publish a transcript of David McCullough Jr.’s viral graduation speech “You’re Not Special” Wellesley High School. Globe edition seems to be gone but I unearthed my original draft in 2022.)
At the risk of telling me you-know-what, here’s what I’ve been wondering since Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough, Jr. gave his “You’re Not Special” speech on May 1. June: has the address disappeared? viral on the web if I hadn’t posted it on my humble community site?
The famously named public school teacher (yes, his father is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author/historian) delivered his speech to a typical crowd of freshmen, a few hundred senior graduates, and their families. Media coverage of eyewitnesses was limited, with initial articles making little mention of McCullough’s speech and no mention of the term “special”, which appears six times among the roughly 1,800 words in the transcript. I didn’t attend the opening of Wellesley High, although I claim to share with followers of The Swellesley Report, my 6-year-old blog/website, “More than you really want to know about Wellesley, Mass. ” I already had 8th and 5th grade graduation ceremonies on my schedule, and I wasn’t masochistic enough to graduate from high school without having kids in the class of 2012.
But as a part-time community reporter, I was interested in how the ceremony unfolded, grateful that this class persevered in building the city’s shiny new high school right next to the historic old one where they followed the most of their courses for the past. 4 years. The day after the debut, a friend told me that McCullough gave a good speech. I didn’t give it much thought until two days later, a reader emailed me, offering a scanned copy of her daughter’s lecture, simply labeled “June 1st Special.” I forwarded this offer, not wanting to transcribe it, but was intrigued enough to email McCullough to request a copy. He responded within an hour on June 5, and I posted it on our website, plucking the phrase “You’re Not Special” to include in the headline.
That’s when the fun began.
The first pickup of our article arrived within hours by Universal Hub, a Boston blog run by my old friend Adam Gaffin. , a guy who taught me a lot of what I know about blogging. Although Adam didn’t actually use the word “special” in his title, preferring “Wellesley High School Teacher to Senior Graduates: Pull Yourself Up”, I remember thinking when I saw this: good title!
Over the next two days, our publication of the speech was picked up by a mix of new and traditional media, including the Huffington Post, Boston Globe, Daily Beast, Washington Post and Drudge Report, and began circulating wildly. on Facebook. Publications in the UK, Germany and Australia are linked to us. Emails began pouring in from friends, who were surprised to be directed to The Swellesley Report from news sites such as the New York Daily News. I’ve also been peppered with requests from high-profile publications such as The Dallas Morning News and Christian Science Monitor seeking permission to republish the talk — not for me to grant. I was encouraged by the number of publications that gave us credit for publishing the transcript.
Seeing the story picked up by local news outlets such as the Globe, Herald, and MyFoxBoston wasn’t too surprising, because whenever something at the least controversial oozes out of our oft-described “liberal” and “chic” city ( illicit massage parlours, school children praying in a mosque, a reported sexual assault), a motorcade of news vans and helicopters rushes by. We regularly receive posts on our website picked up by local news outlets. But the national and
the international response has been surprising given that the furthest we usually get readers from is Wellesley Township in Ontario. The fact that many Wellesley residents were affluent seemed to have little bearing on national and international coverage, as these news outlets were simply drawn to McCullough’s message.
As the story grew, it was hard not to look at the Google program I use to track website traffic trends. Regular visitors generally dominate our traffic, but new visitors have flooded the site since the speech was delivered. Overall, I’ve had more traffic to the site since June 5 than I had in the previous five months, which makes me wish my advertisers were paying per click rather than a flat fee.
Over the weekend of June 9-11, the web server supporting our site was practically crying out for mercy, forcing my tech support to turn off the comment system, which was overloaded with a mixture of “Amen, brother” messages and blame anyone who questioned McCullough’s message. The speech was the main topic of conversation at the late-spring festivities, with a salesman neighbor telling me he used McCullough’s words to motivate his own team. Meanwhile, the local-access cable channel posted its video of the keynote on YouTube, sparking a whole new wave of awareness via 1.4 million views.
The most incredible thing to me in all of this came from a comment McCullough made during a CBS This Morning interview, as he admitted to having a hard time understanding why his speech got the world’s attention. . “I thought I was just talking to the 400 graduates whoever they are… I live a very cloistered life. Very recently, someone had to explain to me what a blog was.
Well, now he knows.