Wear Sunscreen. Or Don’t.

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

“Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” is a pop music hit from 1999 based on a column written by Mary Schmich for the Chicago Tribune.  The song like the article it was based was a message to graduates modeled as a glib commencement speech.

The column and song began with “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.”

It was then filled with simple messages about separating the important from the trivial, the song advised such things as:

Don’t be reckless with other peoples’ hearts; don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don’t waste your time on jealously, 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.


The column and song concluded “…but trust me on the sunscreen”

The class of 2012 are now greeted with the FDA postponing the implementation of new regulations on Sunscreen, fearing certain types are now more harmful than beneficial but not wanting to cause a shortage during the transition to new and improved sunscreen.  It appears that oxybenzone contained in many “sport” sunscreen products is absorbed into the skin and may actually cause more skin cancers than sun exposure.

So much for the trustworthy advice for the class of 1997.

For the class of 2012, I would offer this one piece of advice:  Be your own expert.

“Expert” opinions come and go.  Many are fads.  The term itself is often a lazy place-holding descriptor utilized by journalists who don’t choose to scrutinize the credentials of those offering facts to buttress the story they are working on.  After all, why would any of us mere mortals want to question the learned judgment of an expert?

Except that experts are often wrong.  Many are not experts at all, but shills trying to shape opinion.  Many pick and choose evidence supportive of their cause while rejecting evidence that is more problematic.  Information to draw conclusions is often incomplete. Many hypothesis are often presented as proven fact.

In our pop culture driven world, expert opinion is often no more than feel good group think.  Which works fine until there are problems.  Folks then aren’t feeling so good and the “experts” are no where around to fulfill any implied guarantees on the advice given.

Worse, we often no longer want to find the truth. It is much easier to search out opinions that are comfortable to us.  Many of us spend much of our life not challenging our beliefs, but attempting to affirm preconceived notions.  Life should not be about not proving yourself wrong, but proving yourself right.

Celebrate the rare occasions when you prove yourself wrong.  It means you learned something.

If you honestly seek opinions from those whom you disagree, it is likely you will both learn something, even if no opinions are changed.  In this situation, two people end up better off, which is even better.

Experts will come and go, but you will be the only one around to live with the results of their findings.

Wear sunscreen or don’t wear sunscreen.  But be your own expert.


  1. Thanks for the words of wisdom, Charlie. This Class of 2012 graduate greatly appreciates all you’ve said over the past few years. I’ve learned so much from you and others during my time browsing through the site. Thank you for all that you’ve done and continue to do.

    • Calypso says:

      Congrats, graduate.

      I want to leave you with the same sentiment my dad told me many years ago when I graduated college. It was three simple, profound words, “Get a job.”

      All the best to your in your endeavors.

Comments are closed.