Wear Sunscreen

Mary Schmich

Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young

Published June 1, 1997

Inside every adult lurks a graduation speaker dying to get out, some

world-weary pundit eager to pontificate on life to young people who’d rather

be Rollerblading. Most of us, alas, will never be invited to sow our words of

wisdom among an audience of caps and gowns, but there’s no reason we can’t

entertain ourselves by composing a Guide to Life for Graduates.

I encourage anyone over 26 to try this and thank you for indulging my

attempt.

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97:

Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.

The long-term benefits  of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas

the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering

experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not

understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust

me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way

you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you

really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as

effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The

real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your

worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who

are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re

behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in

doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The

most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with

their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re

gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you

won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on

your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself

too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are

everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what

other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be

nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most

likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should

hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the

older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in

Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will

philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when

you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children

respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe

you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run

out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look

85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it.

Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from

the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts  and recycling it

for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

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