I really did enjoy that teacher's speech that the graduating students were not special. We all are really just a micro-drop in a sea of billions. However, we're all special in our very small section of the world. That being said, I believe that society is creating a generation of young people who expect praise, trophies, awards etc for doing very little or nothing. They are learning very little about hard work and sacrifices which may often come with no special recognition at all.
On 11 June 2012, one speaker's words to a high school graduating class in the U.S. were that the graduates were not "special." His message went around the world, and when Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News introduced the story, he actually warned the TV audience!
Now, for the older generations, this "shocking news story" was certainly less than disturbing since their culture produced young adults who had been aware from a very early age that they were not especially exceptional. Therefore, they knew that they would have to work hard and make achievements in order to accomplish anything in their lives. For, they expected nothing from anyone. They knew that they would have to be responsible for their own successes because their society had taught them this important lesson.
But, in contemporary society, there are those individuals who have received trophies for just being on the team and never playing in a game, or for just participating in a summer camp, etc. They have had the "cape-crusader" of a parent--these were the words of the graduation speaker-- fly down to protect the offspring at every turn of misfortune or every challenge facing the child. Therefore, the graduating classes of 2012 had a much different self-perception and attitude toward life as a result of the society in which they have lived.
Society and culture allow us to not have to reinvent the wheel, don't you think? We are all standing on the shoulders of those in the past who discovered and created. We are given a precious heritage, and our accomplishments are to a large degree the result of that heritage.
It depends on what kind of achievement you are referring to. Academic achievement certainly is influenced by society, as we see a much greater emphasis on education in first world countries than in third world countries. The same could be said of achievements in science, business, and the arts.
But other accomplishments are also achievements. How about a community that manages to create a safe, peaceful life for its citizens, even though they may be technologically or educationally challenged? Isn't that also an achievement?
I, too, agree that society plays a role in one's achievement. We are normally deemed successful based upon the ideology set by society. Also, many people base their achievement upon how others succeed. Without this comparison, deeming one successful would be hard because there would be nothing to compare the success to.
I think culture must play some role. It seems likely that a culture that values aggressive actions and wants people to become rich is more likely to have people who prosper economically than one that emphasizes getting along with others and trying to blend in with the crowd.
So I do think our society has an impact on our success or lack of it.