COMMENCEMENT SPEECH FROM KURT VONNEGUT TO THE CLASS OF ’97
Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97:
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term
benefits of sunscreen have been proven 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 have 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
Don’t worry about the future. Oh 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 mind, the kind that blind side you at 4pm on some idle
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
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
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 when they were 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 will miss them when they are gone.
Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t.
Maybe you’ll divorce, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th anniversary.
Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your
choices are half chance. So are everyone 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 will 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 will 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 it before you get hard. Live in Northern California
once, but leave it before you get soft. Travel.
Accept certain unalienable truths: Price 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 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 is worth.
But trust me on the sunscreen.