I've been following the discussion on Eliot's graduation
poem written when he was 17 and I have nothing to add about Eliot. One thing
that did strike me though was a remark about how difficult it is to write a
poem about graduation without simply repeating clichés. The same is true of graduation
speeches, not just graduation poems. However, the list discussion reminded me
of one of favorite graduation speeches, written by Mary Schmich, a columnist
for the newspaper "The Chicago Tribune" in 1997. The text was never
actually given as a speech; rather, it was written by Ms. Schmich as the speech
she _would_ have given if she had been asked to address a graduating class. I
wish she had been asked to give this at my graduation . . .

-- Tom --



June 1, 1997

Chicago Tribune

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.


Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are
reckless with yours.


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.


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

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

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.