Sunscreen, other bits of wisdom for graduates

Friday, November 16, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 46

“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.” Thus wrote Mary Schmich in her Chicago Tribune column, June 1, 1997.

A confessed graduation speaker wannabe, Schmich was “eager to pontificate on life to young people who’d rather be rollerblading.” Thus, she composed what has become a classic that bears revisiting from time to time: Guide to Life for Graduates.

“Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth …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….

“[W]orrying [about the future] 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….

“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….

“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. [D]on’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself, either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s….

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

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

“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….

“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.

“…Don’t expect anyone else to support you….

“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.”

As a direct result of Schmick’s column, I sunscreen my face each day after shaving. And I’ve thrown away all bank statements more than three years old. But then, I always was a sucker for what seems like good advice.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at