“Wear Sunscreen”: The Story Behind the Commencement Speech That Kurt Vonnegut Never Gave

On June 1, 1997, Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune columnist and Brenda Starr cartoonist, wrote a column entitled “ Advice, like young, probably precisely wasted on the new. ” In her presentation to the column she described it as the commencement speech she would give to the classify of ’ 97 if she were asked to give one .
The beginning line of the speech : “ Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’ 97 : tire sunscreen. ”
If you grew up in the 90s, these words may sound familiar, and you would be absolutely right. australian film director Baz Luhrmann used the essay in its entirety on his 1998 album Something for Everybody, turning it into his reach one “ Everybody ’ s Free ( To Wear Sunscreen ). ” With spoken-word lyrics over a mellow back racetrack by zambian dance music performer Rozalla, the sung was an unexpected global hit, reaching act 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States and phone number one in the United Kingdom .
The thing is, Luhrmann and his team did not realize that Schmich was the actual generator of the speech until they sought out license to use the lyrics. They believed it was written by author Kurt Vonnegut .
For Schmich, the “ Sunscreen Controversy ” was “ barely one of those stories that reminds you of the anarchy of cyberspace. ” While no one knows the originator of the urban legend, the floor goes that Vonnegut ’ second wife, the photographer Jill Krementz, had received an electronic mail in early on August 1997 that purported to reprint a beginning lecture Vonnegut had given at MIT that year. ( The actual commencement speaker was the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. ) “ She was sol please, ” Mr. Vonnegut late told the New York Times. “ She sent it on to a whole of people, including my kids – how clever I am. ”

The purport speech became a viral ace, bouncing around the worldly concern through electronic mail. This is how Luhrmann discovered the textbook. He, along with Anton Monsted and Josh Abrahams, decided to use it for a remix he was working on but was doubtful he could get Vonnegut ’ s license. While searching for the writer ’ s contact information, Luhrmann discovered that Schmich was the actual generator. He reached out to her and, with her permission, recorded the song the next day .
What happened between June 1 and early August, no one knows. For Vonnegut, the controversy cemented his impression that the Internet was not worth trusting. “ I don ’ thyroxine know what the point is except how gullible people are on the Internet. ” For Schmich, she acknowledged that her column would probably not had spread the manner it did without the names of Vonnegut and MIT attached to it .
In the end, Schmich and Vonnegut did connect after she reached out to him to inform him of the confusion. According to Vonnegut, “ What I said to Mary Schmich on the telephone was that what she wrote was funny and knowing and capture, so I would have been proud had the words been mine. ” not a bad ending for a column that was written, according to Schmich, “ while high on coffee and M & Ms. ”
Related Content:
The Shape of A Story : Writing Tips from Kurt Vonnegut

22-Year-Old P.O.W. Kurt Vonnegut Writes Home from World War II : “ I ’ ll Be Damned If It Was Worth It ”
Kurt Vonnegut Reads from Slaughterhouse-Five

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