One morning when I was covering Daynee’s extra-early shift, I walked into the station to hear someone talking over the air. I was confused at first- is this a pre-programmed show I forgot we had? Is someone cutting in to our signal? I checked only to see that it was indeed a song, a spoken word song, programmed into our system just like any other song. I stopped getting the weather report to listen, really listen, to what the song was saying. It sounded like advice. Great advice. Really great advice. What is this??
I checked it out later in the day, title: Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen. Now, the song starts out as if it were a commencement speech; “Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’99…” It had been rumored to be commencement speech Kurt Vonnegut gave, but this is false; it was an article written by Mary Schmich for the Chicago Tribune in 1997. Her introduction to the article described it as the commencement speech she would give if she were ever asked to give one.
The actual title to Schmich’s article is Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young. Mixed and recorded with Australian voice actor Lee Perry, it became a worldwide hit on Baz Luhrmann’s 1998 album Something for Everybody. Maybe you’ve heard it and maybe you’ve haven’t… but I want to share it with you anyway.
It begins with the disclaimer that the only proven fact of the entire song is the benefits of sunscreen; the rest is just advice from a ‘meandering’ mind. And advice it is. I get a calmed feeling every time I listen to this song. It touches on an abundance of topics, including family and friends, politics and culture. I could go into detail on every verse and piece of advice Schmich gives, but that would probably take quite the essay. Instead, I just want to touch on some points that hit close to home for me.
Sunscreen speaks of past, present, and future, the three inevitable timeframes that struggle for dominance in my life. The strong ties to my home and past wage wars with the present of the here and now, and then there is the ever uncertain future of what will come to be??
Schmich says, “Don’t worry about the future, or know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum.” I’ve never seen myself as the worrying type, but I have found myself contemplating the future quite frequently as the halfway point of this journey draws ever nearer. We volunteers converse about it every now and again, but ultimately we realize all we can do is as Schmich says- live in the here and now of our winter-wonderland, and overcome that obstacle when it is upon us. There is no sense in worrying about the next step yet.
I find it appropriate in the set up of a commencement speech (as a recent grad myself), for once graduation hits, it is time to either get a job, go back to school, and ultimately just figure things out. The big question we are asked from the time we are young: What do you want to do when you grow up? What do you want to be? When I was young answering these seemed so easy. ‘A vet! A writer! A dancer!’ Now that I am on the brink of growing up (for age’s sake), I realize these are two very different questions. What do I want to be? Well, from my experience, all people want to be the same thing- happy and healthy. This overarching rule stretches across culture, age, and religious divides. What do I want to do? This is where, I think, people might differ a bit more. Some want to be married with children, some don’t, some want a long safe stable career, some don’t. If you are expecting some exciting elaborate response to what I want to do, you are sadly mistaken. If there is one thing I do want to do, it’s adventure. And spread sunshine on everything that comes my way, naturally. That’s all I can really tell you. I do not know how this will be accomplished, or in what context, but that is my goal. Which leads me to probably my most favorite verse of the song…
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.
And so here I am, at age 22, nearing 23, and I don’t have the slightest clue. I did used to feel guilty about this, as at every function people seem to ask ‘What are you doing?” Or, if nothing in particular, “What are you planning on doing?” This was especially true as graduation neared, and many of those close to me all seemed to have lives and careers planned so ideally. But I have learned to not feel guilty anymore. Because the way I see it, I’ll work it out, somehow. I’ll get to that next step, go on that next adventure. Hey, I got here, didn’t I? And it is comforting to know that if nothing else, at least I will be interesting.
Thanks, Mary Schmich, for the advice. I’ll be sure to wear my sunscreen.