Teacher defends "You're not special" speech

David McCullough Jr. on "CBS This Morning."
David McCullough Jr. on "CBS This Morning."

(CBS News) A Massachusetts high school English teacher said he's "floored by the reaction" to his recent commencent address in which he told the graduates nine times that they were "not special."

Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough Jr. defended the speech Tuesday on "CBS This Morning" saying he told the students what they needed to hear.

"My intention was a little hyperbolic drollness to get their attention so they would be paying attention by the end when I told them what I really wanted," McCullough said.

McCullough ended his speech with, "Selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you're not special - because everyone is. Congratulations, good luck. Make for yourselves, please for your sake and ours, extraordinary lives."

"I've been teaching high school kids for 26 years," McCullough said. "In that time, one comes to see what kids need to be told. These are wonderful kids. And one grows very fond of them and proud of them, but that doesn't mean you should indulge them with things, with platitudes or false encouragement. I wanted to give them a notion that with their privilege comes responsibility."

McCullough, the son of famed historian David McCullough, is upset that he's become the story.

"We were there to celebrate their achievement, their beginning. Now the cameras are on me. They really shouldn't be."