Vonnegut Speech, or Urban Legend?

Everything below this paragraph has been forwarded to someone, from somewhere. It obviously originates from e-mail and/or chat groups, but beyond that, I have no idea of the authenticity or origin of the material. But it was new to me, and I enjoyed it, so I put it up on SummitLake.com. I hope you enjoy it too.

The speech is pasted below this article. Some of you have already seen it. It struck me as awesome the first time I read it (the speech), and I continue to like it today.Skip the article if you want, but read the speech at the bottom.

‘Vonnegut Speech’ Circulates on Net 6:13pm 4.Aug.97.PDTA copy of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s recent MIT commencement address made heavy email rotation on Friday. The characteristically pithy, funny, thoughtful speech was passed from friend to friend stamped with such comments as “worth a read” and “check this out – it’s great.”

And it was great. Trouble is, it wasn’t Vonnegut’s. “Kurt Vonnegut Jr. had never given a commencement address at MIT,” said Robert Sales, associate director of the school’s news office.

It turns out the “speech” was actually a column penned by the Chicago Tribune’s Mary Schmich. The column ran on 1 June – five days before UN Secretary General Kofi Annan delivered the actual commencement address at MIT. That speech “was a lot longer and maybe not as clever” as the purported Vonnegut address, Sales said.

Much of Schmich’s column – which consists of advice for graduates – sounds like stuff Vonnegut might say: “Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours…. 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…. Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Nobody – least of all Schmich – can figure out why Vonnegut’s name was slapped onto her column. “Some prankster apparently decided it would be funny. Why is it funny? If you can figure that out, you’re a genius,” she said Monday.

Perhaps the act itself wasn’t funny, but some of the fallout has been. First of all, there’s the fact that (ahem) Wired News ran part of the column as its Quote of the Day on Friday. Also, Schmich says she’s gotten as much attention from the incident as just about anything she’s written. “My email’s just flooded with messages,” she says. And she says she’s actually been accused of plagiarizing Vonnegut – and vice versa. On Friday, she managed to reach Vonnegut, who, Schmich says, said the whole thing is “spooky.”

In her column on Monday, Schmich writes that she wrote the piece “one Friday afternoon while high on coffee and M&M’s.” And, she insisted, “it was not art.”

In part, Schmich blames the “cyberswamp” of the Internet for all the trouble. “At newspapers, things like this have to go through a barrier before they go out to the world,” she said. But on the Net “anybody can put anybody’s name on anything.”

Nonetheless, she added, “No one involved in this did anything bad, except the person who started it.”

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.

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