1997 By Mary Schmich Essay

Inside every adult lurks a graduation speaker dying to get out, some world-weary pundit eager to pontificate on life to young people who'd rather be Rollerblading. Most of us, alas, will never be invited to sow our words of wisdom among an audience of caps and gowns, but there's no reason we can't entertain ourselves by composing a Guide to Life for Graduates.

I encourage anyone over 26 to try this and thank you for indulging my attempt.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 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. 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 of 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 your 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 with a 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 who knew you 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. Travel.

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.

"Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young", commonly known by the title "Wear Sunscreen",[1] is an essay written as a hypothetical commencement speech by columnistMary Schmich, originally published in June 1997 in the Chicago Tribune.[2] The essay, giving various pieces of advice on how to live a happier life and avoid common frustrations, spread massively via viral email, often erroneously described as a commencement speech given by author Kurt Vonnegut at MIT.

The essay became the basis for a successful spoken word song released in 1999 by Baz Luhrmann, "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)", also known as "The Sunscreen Song".[3] The song inspired numerous parodies.

Chicago Tribune column[edit]

Mary Schmich's column "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young" was published in the Chicago Tribune on June 1, 1997.[4] In the column's introduction Schmich presents the essay as the commencement speech she would give if she were asked to give one.

In the speech she insistently recommends the wearing of sunscreen, and dispenses other advice and warnings which are intended to help people live a happier life and avoid common frustrations. She later explained that the initial inspiration for what advice to offer came from seeing a young woman sunbathing, and hoping that she was wearing sunscreen, unlike what she herself did at that age.[5]

The essay soon became the subject of an urban legend which claimed it was an MIT commencement speech given by author Kurt Vonnegut. In reality, MIT's commencement speaker in 1997 was Kofi Annan and Vonnegut had never been a commencement speaker there.[6] Despite a follow-up article by Schmich on August 3, 1997,[7] the story became so widespread that Vonnegut's lawyer began receiving requests to reprint the speech.[6] Vonnegut commented that he would have been proud had the words been his.[6]

Schmich published a short gift book adaptation of the essay, Wear Sunscreen: A Primer for Real Life, in 1998. A tenth anniversary edition was published in 2008.[8]

Baz Luhrmann version[edit]

The essay was used in its entirety by Australian film director Baz Luhrmann on his 1998 album Something for Everybody, as "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)". It was released in some territories in 1997, with the speech (including its opening words, "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Class of '97") completely intact. This version appeared in the Triple J Hottest 100 of that year at number 16 in the countdown, and was released on the subsequent CD in early 1998.[9]

Also known as "The Sunscreen Song",[3] it sampled Luhrmann's remixed version of the song "Everybody's Free (To Feel Good)" by Rozalla, and opened with the words, "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Class of '99" (instead of "'97", as in the original column). It was later released as a single in 1999.

Luhrmann explained that Anton Monsted, Josh Abrahams, and he were working on the remix when Monsted received an email with the supposed Vonnegut speech. They decided to use it but were doubtful of getting through to Vonnegut for permission before their deadline, which was only one or two days away. While searching the Internet for contact information they came upon the "Sunscreen" authorship controversy and discovered that Schmich was the actual author. They emailed her and, with her permission, recorded the song the next day.[10]

The song features a spoken-word track set over a mellow backing track. The "Wear Sunscreen" speech is narrated by Australian voice actor Lee Perry.[11] The backing is the choral version of "Everybody's Free (To Feel Good)", a 1991 song by Rozalla, used in Luhrmann's film William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet. The chorus, also from "Everybody's Free", is sung by Quindon Tarver.

The song was a top ten hit across Europe, but largely obscure in the US until Aaron Scofield, a producer in Phoenix, Arizona, edited the original 12" version into a segment of a syndicated radio show called Modern Mix. This show played on many stations in the United States. In Portland, Oregon—where Modern Mix played on KNRK—listeners began requesting the track. KNRK program director Mark Hamilton edited the song for time and began playing it regularly. He distributed the song to other program directors that he networked with and the song exploded in the US.[12]

The song reached number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay in the United States; by the time it was released as a commercial single in the country, radio airplay had declined significantly, and only managed to peak at number 45 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also peaked at number one in the United Kingdom and Ireland, partly due to a media campaign by Radio One DJ Chris Moyles.

There are four versions of the song: the original 7:09 minute mix from the album Baz Luhrmann Presents: Something for Everybody; a 1999 single release which features a 5:05 minute edit that lacks both choruses; "Geographic's Factor 15+ Mix" that runs for 4:42 minutes; and a "2007 Mix" of the original 7:09 minute version released on the 10th Anniversary Edition of the William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet soundtrack on which the opening words are changed to "Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2007".

There are two videos for the song: one which uses the 1999 5:05 minute single edit of the song (the version in which Quindon Tarver is not featured), directed and animated by Bill Barminski; and another using the 7:09 minute edit made by the Brazilian advertising agency DM9DDB.[13][14]

The song also appeared in Germany and was soon followed by a German version with the title "Sonnencreme".[15] The German translation is narrated by the German actor Dieter Brandecker.[16] A Brazilian version is narrated in Portuguese by Pedro Bial, and a Swedish version is narrated by Rikard Wolff. A Russian adaptation of the song, recorded live by Silver Rain Radio, was performed by Alex Dubas and Yolka.[17]

On August 10, 2008 the song re-entered the UK Singles Chart at number 72.

Track listing[edit]

CD-Maxi Capitol 8871762 (EMI) / EAN 0724388717625[18]

  1. "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)" (Edit) – 5:05
  2. "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)" (Geographic's Factor 15+ Mix) – 4:42
  3. "Love Is in the Air" (Fran Mix) performed by John Paul Young – 4:30

Charts and certifications[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]

Year-end charts[edit]


Mau Kilauea's Tropical Remix version[edit]

This version was released as a remix to Baz Luhrmann's 1999 version. The remix was written by Mau Kilauea and dubbed as a "Tropical Remix" because of the choice of instrumentation. The song was posted to Soundcloud on Mau Kilauea's page and reposted by Spinnin' Records. The song became a first hit for Mau Kilauea.[citation needed]


The Baz Luhrmann song version inspired numerous parodies. John Safran released a song entitled "Not the Sunscreen Song" which peaked at #20 in Australia.[36]

American comedian Chris Rock enjoyed great success with his spoken word song "No Sex (In the Champagne Room)" which was in turn parodied on Mad TV as "Ain't No Blacks on the TV Screen" in the style of Rock's stand-up. The song was also parodied in an episode of Disney's House of Mouse performed by Jiminy Cricket. The comedy group Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie also made a parody entitled "The Sunscreen Marketing Board". Jegsy Dodd and the Original Sinners' version, "Grumpy Old Men", was voted favourite track of 2005 by BBC Radio 1 listeners in their annual Festive 50 poll.

Angelos Epithemiou's live tour included a parody of the song titled "Don't Muck About".

A parody entitled "Mow Against The Grain" appears on the King of the Hill soundtrack album.

Another parody by comedian Simmi Areff was played on South African radio station East Coast Radio at the conclusion of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.



  1. ^Alvarez, Justin. ""Wear Sunscreen": The Story Behind the Commencement Speech That Kurt Vonnegut Never Gave". Open Culture. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  2. ^Tribune, Chicago. "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young". 
  3. ^ ab"The Sunscreen Song (class of '99)" is used as an alternative title on the cover of the single; see also the single's "Editorial Reviews" on Amazon, and "The Cyber-Saga of the 'Sunscreen' Song" by the Washington Post.
  4. ^Mary Schmich (1997-06-01). "Original published article". Chicago Tribune. 
  5. ^Frank Ahrens (1999-03-18). "The Cyber-Saga of the 'Sunscreen' Song". Washington Post. 
  6. ^ abcFisher, Ian (1997-08-06), "It's All the Talk of the Internet's Gossip Underground", The New York Times 
  7. ^Mary Schmich (1997-08-03). "Follow-up article". Chicago Tribune. 
  8. ^Schmich, Mary (2008). Wear Sunscreen: A Primer for Real Life. Andrews McMeel Publishing. ISBN 0740777173.  
  9. ^"history - triple j hottest 100 - 2008 - triple j". 26 December 2008. 
  10. ^"Something for Everybody". Something for Everybody. 2002-12-05. Archived from the original on 2002-12-05. Retrieved 2009-07-14. 
  11. ^"Lee Perry (I)". Imdb.com. 1959-12-16. Retrieved 2009-07-14. 
  12. ^Baz Luhrmann Goes to the Top of the Class By Applying His Sunscreen. Billboard Magazine. 1999-04-03. Retrieved 2016-02-24. 
  13. ^"Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) Bill Barminski's version". youtube. 2007-05-24. Retrieved 2010-06-01. 
  14. ^"Everybody's Free to Wear Sunscreen! DM9DDB's version". youtube. 2006-12-12. Retrieved 2010-06-01. 
  15. ^"everybody's free (to wear sunscreen)". Brainfusion. 2001-01-22. Archived from the original on 2001-01-22. Retrieved 2009-07-14. 
  16. ^"Sonnencreme (Everybody's...) [Import]: Baz Luhrmann: Amazon.com". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2011-04-13. 
  17. ^ (in Russian). Blog of Alex Dubas. 2009-12-20. Archived from the original on 2011-08-11. Retrieved 2011-02-19. 
  18. ^Steffen Hung. "Baz Luhrmann - Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)". australian-charts.com. Retrieved 2014-04-01. 
  19. ^Ryan, Gavin (2011). Australia's Music Charts 1988–2010. Mt. Martha, VIC, Australia: Moonlight Publishing. 
  20. ^"Ultratop.be – Baz Luhrmann – Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  21. ^"Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". 
  22. ^"Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". 
  23. ^"Musicline.de – Baz Luhrmann Single-Chartverfolgung" (in German). Media Control Charts. PhonoNet GmbH. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  24. ^"The Irish Charts – All there is to know". irishcharts.ie. Irish Recorded Music Association. Archived from the original(insert "Baz Luhrmann" into the "Search by Artist" box, and select "Search") on July 21, 2011. Retrieved May 6, 2012. 
  25. ^"Nederlandse Top 40 – week 29, 1999" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40 Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  26. ^"Norwegiancharts.com – Baz Luhrmann – Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)". VG-lista. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  27. ^"Swedishcharts.com – Baz Luhrmann – Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)". Singles Top 100. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  28. ^"Swisscharts.com – Baz Luhrmann – Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  29. ^"Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved January 15, 2012.
  30. ^"Baz Luhrmann Chart History (Adult Pop Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  31. ^"Baz Luhrmann Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  32. ^"Baz Luhrmann - Chart History". Retrieved September 29, 2014. 
  33. ^"Baz Luhrmann Chart History (Pop Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  34. ^"Top Singles - Volume 70, No. 8, December 13, 1999". RPM. December 13, 1999. Archived from the original on March 10, 2016. Retrieved November 21, 2017. 
  35. ^"British single certifications – Baz Luhrmann – Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved May 6, 2012. Enter Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) in the search field and then press Enter.
  36. ^Steffen Hung. "John Safran - Not The Sunscreen Song". australian-charts.com. Retrieved 2014-04-01. 


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