With this being graduation time, I am reminded of a couple scenes from my beloved ’80s movies. First we have Rodney Dangerfield as “Thornton Melon” in 1986’s Back to School delivering something on the humorous side…
The other is much more serious, but from one of my favorites, 1989’s Say Anything, when “Diane Court” played by Ione Skye delivers her valedictorian speech…
But I am going to depart my favorite decade for the rest of this particular article to revisit something I became aware of in 1999 and feel is quite applicable especially during graduation season. Even though it’s not from the ’80s, it still certainly qualifies as retro since it was still over 20 years ago. You may or may not already be familiar with this, but it gained some attention and popularity when a “song” was released back in 1999 titled “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen).” The lyrics read in this song actually come from the June 1997 Chicago Tribune column written by Mary Schmich titled “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young.”
The original column by Schmich was written as the commencement address she would give if she were ever asked to actually give one. The column was circulated around the Internet, with an erroneous claim that it was a commencement address by Kurt Vonnegut. It became sort of an urban legend and, according to Ian Fisher’s New York Times 1997 article, when Vonnegut was asked to comment he responded “What she wrote was funny and wise and charming, so I would have been proud had the words been mine.”
“Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” was released in 1999 by Australian film director Baz Luhrmann (of 2001’s Moulin Rouge! fame) on an album titled Something for Everybody. Contrary to popular belief the lyrics are not really read by Baz Luhrmann himself or actor Richard Dreyfuss. It is actually narrated by an Australian voice actor named Lee Perry. The song was a hit worldwide and even reached #45 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Here is a music video for “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” by Baz Luhrmann…
Here are the words/lyrics:
“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 nevermind; you will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have 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’re 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 bubblegum.
The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.
Do one thing everyday 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 the 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 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 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 in your own 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 are the best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.
Understand that friends come and go, but for the 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 you knew 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.
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 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…”
Looking back now after my own life experience, most of what Mary Schmich wrote back in 1997 really connects with me. And I still feel it would be great advice to someone about to embark on the rest of their life. I have heard the contrary from others who feel it is a little naïve and even condescending. I choose to take it as clever and encouraging with a message of appreciating the important things and living without regret. I find these words moving and even more so if I would have heard them in the context of a commencement/graduation ceremony.
Many of us here on The Retro Network like to travel back in time and remember fondly the nostalgia of our youth. How many times have we said something like, “If I only knew then what I know now”??? Some mistakes are worth repeating and I also believe in the idea of “bless the broken road”, but it’s also nice to add a little guidance while taking on all life has to throw at us.
If you have never read or heard these words before, I hope you take heed and enjoy them. If you have heard them before, I hope this served as a reminder. Either way, remember to keep your priorities in order and live life to the fullest. And maybe there is someone you know to share these words of advice with or you can share your own words with them. Everybody can learn from and appreciate a little something from those who’ve come before.