June 13th, 2012
12:40 PM ET

Teacher who tells students they're 'not special' says parents need to let kids achieve on their own

"You're not special."

That's what some recent graduates were told by their commencement speaker, Wellesley High School teacher David McCullough, Jr., and the Massachusetts high school graduation speech has gone viral online.

"You're not special. You're not exceptional," McCullough says. "Contrary to what your U-9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card despite every assurance that a certain corpulent purple dinosaur that nice Mr. Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal cape crusader is swooped into save you, you are nothing special."

McCullough talked to Zoraida Sambolin on "Early Start" to react to the attention his speech received and to clarify what he meant in the speech.

Read the transcript from "Early Start" by clicking on "Full Story".

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Filed under: Graduation • Parents • Voices
June 12th, 2012
12:30 PM ET

Perry on tough love for students

(CNN) - CNN education contributor Steve Perry responds to an English teacher's commencement speech that has gone viral.

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Filed under: Graduation • On air • Starting Point • video
June 11th, 2012
11:20 AM ET

Commencement speaker tells grads they’re ‘not special’

by James Dinan, CNN

(CNN) - Most commencement speeches aren’t very memorable. The commencement ceremonies I’ve attended, both as a graduate and as a guest, featured speeches that sounded like the speaker just phoned it in and could have cured insomnia. All of the speeches talked about reaching for the stars and keeping your feet on the ground – it’s as if Casey Kasem wrote every commencement speech ever recited.

This takes us to David McCullough, Jr., an English teacher at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts. McCullough’s recent commencement speech to Wellesley’s Class of 2012 could be pared down to one sentence: You’re not special.

McCullough, son of the famed historian, told the graduates that they’ve been pampered all their lives by parents, teachers and others, but now they need to slip up and make mistakes as they try to make it as adults. You can catch part of McCullough’s speech in the above video.

Despite the bluntness of McCullough’s remarks, many critics are heaping praise at the speech, saying it is a wake-up call for a generation some say is self-centered and over-protected.

What do you think of McCullough’s speech? Was he mean-spirited, or was he just telling the truth?

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Filed under: Graduation • On air • Practice • video
June 4th, 2012
04:01 PM ET

A dress made from homework

By Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN) Combining her efforts from the school year with some serious, sartorial creativity, Kara Koskowich wove together a garment that truly made the grade.

The 17-year-old Canadian student graduated in a dress made from her homework.

There was literally no chance of her running into anybody else with the exact same dress.  Most graduates never want to look at homework again; Koskowich found a way to look good in it.

She cut, sewed, glued, and eventually tailored a graduation gown out of the assignments that helped her graduate.  It took about 75 pieces of paper.  She said the math work she did made for the best look.

And though she started the project in March, she cut it pretty close to deadline, finishing the dress the night before she graduated.  “I did most of it the last week because I’m that kind of person.  I procrastinate,” Koskowich said.

She wasn’t the only student to skip store-bought couture.  Her friend Dorothy Graham substituted plastic shopping bags for silk and fashioned her own dress.  According to Graham, “It was actually funny because everyone was wearing these elegant dresses, and we’re in dresses that cost nothing, and we were the most popular people there.”

It shows you don’t need a designer label (or any label at all, really) to win acclaim while accepting a diploma.  And if Koskowich never wears the dress again?  Well, it was only homework, after all.

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Filed under: After High School • Carl Azuz • Character education • Graduation • video
June 1st, 2012
03:01 PM ET

Religion taken out of school ceremony

A 100-year-old high school graduation tradition is being changed because the valedictorian is an atheist. KABB reports.

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Filed under: Graduation • Policy • video
May 29th, 2012
05:55 AM ET

Utah high school graduating class has 2 students

Austin Lewis and Trevor Timm have been friends since they were little kids, and this month, they graduated from Partoun, Utah's West Desert High School together - just the two of them. The school has one teacher-administrator and 10 students in grades seven through 12, CNN affiliate KSL reported.

"You learn a lot of life lessons," valedictorian Lewis said." Like a lot of times during lunch hour, we'd go get stuck in the mud. It's fun having the principal come pull us out with his tractor after school."

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Filed under: Graduation
Opinion: A Navy SEAL's wise advice to graduates
Eric Greitens gives the commencement speech at Tufts University on Sunday.
May 23rd, 2012
06:22 PM ET

Opinion: A Navy SEAL's wise advice to graduates

Editor's note: William J. Bennett, a CNN contributor, is the author of "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.

(CNN) - Each spring, I monitor the list of commencement speakers at our nation's leading colleges and universities. Who is chosen, and who is not, tells us a lot about academia's perception of the most important voices in America.

Two of this year's most popular speakers were CNN's Fareed Zakaria, who spoke at both Harvard University and Duke University, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who spoke at both Tulane University and the University of Washington. Perhaps one of the most original choices, and the one who certainly stood out from the rest, was U.S. Navy SEAL Eric Greitens, who addressed the 2012 graduating class of Tufts University Sunday.

It's not often that elite universities honor military service members with commencement addresses. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower once spoke to a graduating class at an Ivy League university and remarked, "Your business is to put me out of business." So I applaud Tufts University for inviting Greitens.

He is not a household name, but he should be. The 38-year-old Rhodes scholar and humanitarian worker turned U.S. Navy SEAL served multiple tours overseas fighting terrorist cells and received several military awards. Today, he is the CEO of the Mission Continues, a nonprofit foundation he created to help wounded and disabled veterans find ways to serve their communities at home.

To the graduates of Tufts, Greitens issued a unique challenge, one rarely heard at commencements today: to sacrifice, to serve one's country and to live magnanimously. He called students to think above and beyond their own dreams, their own desires, and to be strong. Aristotle called this megalopsychia, greatness of soul, and considered it one of the greatest moral virtues.

Read the full story from Opinion
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Filed under: Graduation • Military • Voices
May 23rd, 2012
12:16 PM ET

Principal apologizes after sending 60 students home for senior bike ride

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - Seniors at Kenowa Hills High School in western Michigan thought a mass bike ride to school was a sweet sendoff for the last day. Police escorted the ride and parents lined the route. The Walker, Michigan, mayor brought doughnuts.

But principal Katharine Pennington didn't know. She said the ride was dangerous, tied up traffic and prevented staff from making it to school, CNN affiliate WOOD-TV reported.

She sent more than 60 students home after the bike ride yesterday. Soon-to-be graduates were banned from participating in the senior walk - a traditional final walk through the school's hallways - and some were told they wouldn't be allowed to walk at graduation, a decision that was later reversed. Students told CNN today the senior walk was rescheduled, too.

Pennington released an apology on Wednesday, along with the superintendent, after parents and students flooded a school board work session with complaints.

“Yesterday, I made a mistake and sincerely regret my actions. Did I overreact? In retrospect, of course I did," Pennington's statement said. "I apologize to the students, their parents, and the community for a reaction that blew this incident out of proportion and called into question the character of our students. Our senior class has demonstrated leadership, unity and school pride throughout this school year. My actions and emotion overshadowed what should have been a very positive senior activity. I have learned much from this experience and do not consider myself infallible.

“I now applaud the students for their foresight in contacting the police department to ensure the safety of their senior surprise. I only wish the police department or others who may have known about this would have let us in on the surprise but, of course, it wouldn’t have been a surprise had we known in advance."


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Filed under: Behavior • Graduation • High school • Practice
May 22nd, 2012
04:15 PM ET

Obama calls Joplin High graduates an 'inspiration,' urges them to lead America

by the CNN Wire Staff

Joplin, Missouri (CNN) - Calling the students an inspiration "to me (and) the world," President Barack Obama urged Joplin High School graduates Monday to heed the lessons they've learned and spirit they've shown to rebuild not only their tornado-ravaged Missouri city, but also their nation.

"America only succeeds when we all pitch in and pull together - and I'm counting on you to be leaders in that effort," said Obama. "Because you are from Joplin. And you've already defied the odds."

Minutes after 450 seniors from the same Missouri school got their diplomas last May 22, a monster twister tore through the community. More than 161 people were killed - the worst death toll for such a tornado since modern record-keeping began in 1950 - while dozens of buildings were torn to shreds by winds as strong as 200 mph.

One of them was Joplin High School itself, with the damage so severe that students ended up attending classes in a vacant section of the city's Northpark Mall.

Joplin 'on the mend' one year later

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Filed under: Graduation • video • Voices
Mistakes graduates make
May 22nd, 2012
12:17 PM ET

Mistakes graduates make

By Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN) Graduates at both the high school and college levels can easily get lost in the complexities of money management, planning and work ethic. But let’s start with the big one. When it comes to common slip-ups by recent graduates, social media are a virtual black hole.

Social media missteps

By now, seniors have heard the warnings – that what they post online is rarely, completely private. You know how you wouldn’t want embarrassing photos or information about your last breakup appearing in a school yearbook? Well, think of Facebook and Twitter as a yearbook for the entire world. And if you're a college graduate whose profile picture reveals a funnel, a frothy drink, and the Jersey Shore (or Lake Havasu…or Daytona Beach…or a Caribbean cruise), there’s a possibility that the company you want to work for will see it.

But while some Facebook pictures and wall posts can be taken down, students won’t get the chance to take down their public tweets. They’re exactly that – public – and they’re now scheduled to stay that way forever.

The Library of Congress is keeping a Twitter archive for posterity. And no matter who you are, how old you are, or what you’ve ever written about in 140 characters or less, every single public tweet EVER is being archived. Does that mean that a potential employer/spouse/child/admissions officer will be able to read what you wrote back in 2009? Yes. Can you take your tweets back? No. The only thing you can do is make your future tweets private – a setting that will keep them from being archived. But everything that’s ever been publicly shared will stay that way.

Summer slacking

Social media aren’t the only danger zones for graduates, of course. Another potential stumbling block is the coveted summer break. Between the ninth and tenth grades, you might've kicked back, relaxed, worked only when needed (or convenient), and ruled the pool. But recent college graduates who stay in that pattern are almost certain to lose whatever jobs are available to those who started their search before they even donned a cap and gown.

And if you’re leaving high school for higher education, you don’t want to be lost when you land on campus. You’ll have to learn how to register for class. Larger campuses will have bus routes you won’t know, and there’s a lot of stuff in your bedroom and your bathroom at home that won’t be included in a dorm. So taking some time to get the lay of the land at college, to do some shopping in advance, or just to work up a transition plan will pay off – and give you more time to go to ice-cream mixers while your dormmates go to Target.


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Filed under: Carl Azuz • College • Graduation • Practice
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