First, let us congratulate our graduating students on achieving a significant milestone, the completion of your grade school/middle school/high school/college studies and the commencement of what is commonly said to be the “rest of your life.”
May pride, pomp and circumstance envelop you.
High school graduates will, no doubt, recognize from your studies that the above phrase references both Shakespeare (“Othello,” Act III, Scene 3) and Sir Edgar Elgar (“Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches.”). Both were Britons of great renown, the first an esteemed playwright and poet, the Bard of Avon, no less; the second a composer of classical music.
“Pomp and Circumstance” was played as you processed during commencement ceremonies. If you hadn’t known that before (see above, “aforementioned studies”) and you were the slight bit curious, you might have looked it up on Google.
Google is a very handy study guide, as you well know. (Wink! Laughing-so-hard-I’m-crying emoji!!) Wikipedia, Google, the Internet of All Things and the Gateway to All Human Knowledge has been at your thumbs and fingertips for years now. Seemingly your whole life. A incalculably vast library in the palm of your hand. You have it all. What possibly could go wrong?
Let us commence.
You may be familiar with what is considered by many to be the greatest commencement speech of all time (re: Washington Post, May 17, 2014). Call it the Sunscreen Speech.
It’s the one in which the author, offering adult advice to anxious graduates-to-be, said: “Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.”
The speech-giver goes on to recommend other things, such as “sing,” “floss,” “do one thing every day that scares you,” “dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room,” etc.
It’s a brilliant bit. We couldn’t come close to matching it; no one else has in the 22 years since publication in 1997.
The piece was pre-Google, though. It was written not long after Yahoo went public, not long after Netscape made browsing a breeze for regular folks without an MIT degree.
For many years, rumor had it the Sunscreen Speech was a commencement address by the novelist Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007, see “Slaughterhouse Five,” “Cat’s Cradle”). It wasn’t.
In fact, the speech wasn’t a speech at all but a newspaper column written by Mary Schmich for the Chicago Tribune.
Mary didn’t address the God-almighty power of what we’ll loosely refer to as the “internet” and the dead-central role it plays in our lives — especially the lives of graduating seniors who have known no other reality.
So, let us add this to Mary’s list:
The hand-held device you carry everywhere, the thing you depend on for social interaction and use to access the worldwide storehouse of information and knowledge, it’s like the sun. Brilliant but too much indiscriminate exposure can harm you.
Be careful. Be curious but be skeptical about what you read. Try hard to figure out who’s trustworthy and who’s unreliable. Think. Employ your critical powers as you would sunscreen.
Remember, the myth of the Sunscreen Speech’s authorship persisted a long time before anyone could Google and find out who actually wrote it. That’s an amazing thing. To humanity’s advantage.
The wonder is a world of knowledge in hand. But also an alarming amount of stuff that can burn you.
An editorial from the Charlotte Sun.