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Wear Sunscreen and Other Life Advice

Mary Schmic
Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune

Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young“, is an essay written as a hypothetical commencement speech by columnist Mary Schmich and was originally published in a June 1997 issue of the Chicago Tribune newspaper. The essay went viral (which means it was widely shared via email since social media didn’t exist yet) in the late 1990s under the title, Wear Sunscreen. The email I received at the time erroneously described the life advice as a commencement speech for MIT given by author Kurt Vonnegut. However, I have no clue why Vonnegut was given credit since he never gave a commencement speech at MIT, but it hasn’t stopped me from sharing the essay, the need to wear sunscreen, and the other life advice.

Wear Sunscreen

Here is the original essay in its entirety. Some of the advice shared applies to or has been used in our 10 Rules for Life. I absolutely love this and hope you do too!

Wear Sunscreen

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 bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4:00 pm 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 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’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 for the precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography, in 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’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.

Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) by Baz Luhrmann

Mary Schmich gave permission for her essay to be used by Australian film director Baz Luhrmann on his 1998 album Something for Everybody as “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” (AKA, “The Sunscreen Song”). Amazingly, the song was a top-10 hit across Europe and charted in both the US and Canada. It also reached number one in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Click on the video below to hear the hit song and enjoy another version of the life advice.


We hope you enjoy this essay and also encourage you to reflect on the advice shared. What is your favorite piece of advice?

Do you disagree with some of the advice?

What advice would you offer to a young graduate who is about to go off and explore the world?

Please share with our community by leaving a comment below!

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