Story last updated at 5/27/2009 - 11:01 am
Each year I'm always interested in reading transcriptions of graduation speeches that get passed on. I like the medium of the graduation speech because the expectations are so high - graduates are almost always on the verge of a big change in their lives. Words spoken at life-changing moments always have a special charge - think of wedding vows, for example.
One of the most well-known graduation speeches of recent years is by Mary Schmich. Her name might not ring a bell, but how about "Wear Sunscreen"? Famously misattributed to Kurt Vonnegut, the speech was really a Chicago Tribune column about what Schmich would say to graduates if she were ever asked to give an address.
Interspersed among the brief admonitions to "wear sunscreen" and "get plenty of calcium" is the kind of advice many graduates are comforted to hear, such as: "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."
I met Mary Schmich shortly before I graduated from college, when I was 22 and didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I was graduating from the same college Schmich had attended, and she was on campus for an alumni gathering and to give a talk to alumni and current students. After her talk, I approached her and asked if eight years after she'd written the famous column, she had any additional advice for graduates.
No, she replied, that was all the advice she had to give.
I was disappointed at the time. Eight years had passed and the advice she would offer graduates hadn't changed?
It wasn't that I didn't believe in the timelessness of the advice she'd given - who could argue with recommendations to sing, floss and stretch? But I was in the middle of a period in which new epiphanies seemed to pop up every day, with new ideas piling up exponentially. And I wanted more. I was about to enter a new chapter of my life - the chapter in which I would unexpectedly settle in Juneau - and I had no idea what was in store. I wanted more of the kind of advice that all graduation speeches seem required to contain: advice that will be applicable to any turn your life takes.
But the kind of advice that makes for a good graduation speech doesn't hit you every day. And not everything you learn in life can be neatly packaged to impart to hundreds of eager graduates.
What is sure to happen after most any graduation is change - often exhilarating, sometimes terrifying, sometimes disappointing. Moving to a new town. Beginning college. Getting a new, harder job. Living on your own. These changes can't help but shake up your perceptions of the world around you, of who you are and where you've come from.
The advice to "wear sunscreen" might not be relevant to Vitamin D-starved students in Southeast. I'd like to recommend sunglasses instead, and not just because our summer sun can be overwhelming.
Sunglasses change the world around us. Dark glasses plunge a bright afternoon into shadows. We talk about someone who is overly optimistic as viewing the world through "rose colored glasses."
After graduation, chances are that a lot of things will take on a different tint. You may find yourself bounding between multiple viewpoints as you balance your old home and family with a new home, new friends and new ideas.
And in the midst of these experiences, maybe there will be something you can later turn into advice to someone else. Regardless, you'll probably pick up more and more different tints to your worldview.
Best wishes to all graduates!
Katie Spielberger may be reached at email@example.com.