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Sometimes “special” is overrated

“You’re special.”

OK, you probably knew that. We all do. We’ve heard it from preschool and kindergarten teachers, greeting cards, posters, and (hopefully) our own parents. And it’s true.

It’s even biblical. Yep, the sacred Scriptures speak of human specialness from cover to cover.

We’re all special.

But how special is special?

English teacher David McCullough, Jr., who happens to be the son of a Pulitzer Prize-winning Presidential biographer (How special is that?), launched a Commencement Ceremony warning shot on specialness to the 2012 graduating class at Massachusetts’ Wellesley High School.

Your ceremonial costume… shapeless, uniform, one-size-fits-all. Whether male or female, tall or short, scholar or slacker, spray-tanned prom queen or intergalactic X-Box assassin, each of you is dressed, you’ll notice, exactly the same. And your diploma… but for your name, exactly the same.

“All of this is as it should be, because none of you is special. You are not special.  You are not exceptional. Contrary to what your 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,” McCullough said.

Hold on for McCullough’s ending, which is really special.

“The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is,” the educator concluded.

The video of McCullough’s address to the Class of 2012 went viral.

Have we overdone “special”?

This is the Special Plate. Maybe you’ve seen this popular gift shop item.

Ours was a wedding gift, a quarter of a century ago, from the pastor who did our wedding. Actually, his very special wife picked it out. They give it to every couple they marry.

Waechtersbach’s “You Are Special Today” plate carries a tradition.

It’s supposed to be used for momentous occasions, such as anniversaries, birthdays, and graduations.  Use of the shiny red dish may also offer recognition for achievements (like a job promotion, athletic feats, or a top grade on a school test), or even raise the spirits of a family member who is not feeling well or is having a rough day.

Used appropriately, the Special Plate can make someone feel somewhat special. That’s sort of the idea, after all.

In our house, however, the Special Plate has become faded and scratched from overuse. A certain family member chooses and uses it every single day, even for reheating leftovers. And, although this glazed ceramic plate is supposed to be hand-washed, ours has endured countless journeys through the automatic dishwasher.

Our Special Plate has lost its specialness.

In fact, it’s become a joke. We’ve been known to hide it under everyday plates, just to see what happens. No matter where we put it, the Special Plate ends up on the dinner table.

Maybe Dana Carvey’s famous “Church Lady” from NBC’s Saturday Night Live said it best:



Perhaps our Special Plate really is special, after all, simply for the lesson it provides.

We may all be special, just because we were made that way. But we cannot make ourselves more special by calling ourselves so. There’s something sort of empty about self-praise – just like the now dingy Special Plate in my dishwasher.

Which would you rather hear?

“You are special.”
“I am special.”

Which would you rather say?

Gee, that certain someone’s birthday is coming up in a few weeks. Maybe we should order the matching “You Are Special Today” mug.
"You Are Special" Plate
Photos by Linda Ann Nickerson
Nickers and Ink Creative Communications

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  1. I've never met a parent who didn't think his/her kid was special or exceptional. Of course if everyone is; nobody is. :)

  2. This is hysterical. We have the special plate, too, and use it mostly on birthdays nowadays (since the kids are adults - no more report cards and such). I love the fact that somebody in your household (somebody who probably is your husband) loves using the plate so much. Isn't that special!