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Speech: Wear sunscreen

09 Nov 2016


As many schools are in, or have recently finished, their final exams, I address my remarks to the ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2016: 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 proven by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis and is no 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 will 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. Dance. Don't be reckless with other people's hearts; Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours. Floss. Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it is only with yourself. Remember compliments you receive, forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how. Keep your old love letters and throw away your old bank statements. Stretch.

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 18 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 have 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, and so are everybody else's.

Use your body and enjoy it. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it—it is the greatest instrument you will ever own. Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but 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 will be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings—they are the best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future. Understand that friends come and go, but a precious few you should hold on to. 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 a big city once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live on the beach once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: prices will rise; politicians will argue; you, too, will get old. And when you do, you will fantasise that, when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians agreed and children respected their elders. Respect your elders.

Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you will 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 are 40, you 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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