Being Special in a Sea of Special

Wow.  In a time when it seems every 5 year old knows what “self-esteem” means, David McCullough Jr. reminded us of our basic human equanimity.   “…even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you. ”  Boy, that either fries your hide or relieves you to seek your destiny or some combination of both.

Every year for the past 10 years, Creative Marbles has advised high school seniors and their parents nervous about college admissions.  Mr. McCullough got me thinking a little differently about their anxieties.  In their efforts to be competitive for a (hopefully, multiple) acceptances to colleges of their choice (meaning: most selective possible),  students are starting to take on similar characteristics–multiple AP courses and passing scores, 4.0+ GPA, 2000+ SAT scores, student government leading, athletic, community serving, environmentally conscious 17 year old.   Maybe the seniors and their families are secretly concerned that a denial means their lifetime of “specialness” isn’t so special.

Again, Mr. McCullough points out:

Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That’s 37,000 valedictorians… 37,000 class presidents… 92,000 harmonizing altos… 340,000 swaggering jocks… 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs.

That’s going to poke a hole in anyone’s balloon–even if just a pin prick.

When I query admissions officers at a variety of colleges, they inevitably admit that parsing the details between candidates who seem to have identical accomplishments on their resumes is the most difficult and stressful part of their jobs.   So, college essays, admissions interviews and letters of recommendation gain weight in the evaluation.  These are the meat that give form to the resume, so to speak–where the personality emerges that gives context to the achievements–so admissions officers can make the most informed evaluation possible.

For applicants seeking to showcase their “specialness” in a sea of special people, paying more attention to building relationships with teachers who will eventually write the letters of recommendation, then spending the time to complete the optional admissions interviews, no matter how nerve-wracking, will help them stay competitive.

17 years of effort and expectation are built into the college application, being more deliberate is only going to help, at least to know one did all possible to be competitive.  And, isn’t that what Mr. McCullough actually telling us–value ourselves based on our internal, inherent guide?

Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages….Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it. Dream big.  Work hard.  Think for yourself.


Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, is a University of California and Harvard trained educator and Partner at Creative Marbles Consultancy. You can contact Jill at or, read her short biography.

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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1 thought on “Being Special in a Sea of Special

  1. Does constantly being told, “You’re special” eventually lead one to wonder, “Is there something off about me, that everyone feels the constant need to tell me I’m special, so I don’t find out I’m really not special?” That instead of building self-esteem, we actually create a culture of doubt?

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