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Were You Fooled? A Lesson In Truth Online

The Set-Up

You may remember receiving a humorous e-mail from one of your friends a couple of months ago. It was supposedly a commencement speech given by Kurt Vonnegut to the graduating class of '97 at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). It was very witty, and it went something like this:

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.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've 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 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 pm on some idle Tuesday.

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 with yours.


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 me how.

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 at 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'll miss them when they're 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. So are everybody else's.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll 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'll 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 before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices 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 else 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's worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

The Truth

You should have been a little suspicious of this one, even though it's a very amusing piece. Strikes home in a lot of areas. In reality, Kurt Vonnegut and the Class of '97 at MIT had nothing to do with this.

Instead, it was actually a column written by Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune on June 1, 1997. It's a good thing she actually found the situation quite amusing. (She was honored to have her prose credited to Vonnegut.)

Of course, she introduced her original piece with the following words, which were conveniently stripped from the online version:

Inside every adult lurks a graduation speaker dying to get out, some world-weary pundit eager to pontificate on life to young people who'd rather be Rollerblading. Most of us, alas, will never be invited to sow our words of wisdom among an audience of caps and gowns, but there's no reason we can't entertain ourselves by composing a Guide to Life for Graduates.

I encourage anyone over 26 to try this and thank you for indulging my attempt.

Being of that age block, I indulged her attempt and found it funny.

I've seen this with other writers, getting non-attribution for their online humorous writings, including Dave Barry and Scott Adams. Too bad for them. We should try to honor their attempts a little better.

What Does This Have To Do With This Site?

Well, it really has to do with believability - who can you trust online? Sure, these things that we e-mail to our friends are funny, and the stories seem real, but how do we know if they are or are not? In reality, we don't. We trust the person who sent us, who trusted the person who sent it to him/her, ...

Do you see where the breakdown is? Can you trust a friend of a friend of a friend of a ....

As for me and this site, you can trust what I say. I give credit where credit is due. I think most of you who come here regularly already do trust me to give you the facts as I know them, and to sort through all of the rumors I hear to come up with the most probably options.

So, I think you can continue to believe what I say here (even if you disagree with my opinions). However, I will never choose to spread disinformation or outright lies, okay?

Looking For Some Wacky News Items?

In case you don't know, many of the stories you see attributed to the Darwin Awards are not true. Or, at least they are unverifiable. (The story of the JATO rocket is proven false.)

But if you're looking for true, funny stories like those from around the world, go on over to News of the Weird. Great stuff, all culled from newspaper accounts. Many of you may already see it in your local papers. Just indulge that funny bone of yours.

wtf 27 August 1997

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This page was last built on Sun, Sep 21, 1997 at 12.37.09 PM. Thanks for checking it out! wtf