To the Class of 2019

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’19:

Wear sunscreen.

As your elders continue to fail you in taking even common-sense steps toward limiting pollution, preventing atmospheric breakdown, and mitigating the effects of over seven and a half billion people living on one planet, the scientific benefits of sunscreen are going to become more useful in protecting your skin at least into your thirties.

The rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience, but I will dispense this advice now.

Use the power and beauty of your youth. It may seem like 2049 is a long ways away, but now is the time to start preparing. Take your optimism with you when you vote, and keep your critical mind operating at all times when you watch cable news or read the Internet. You actually can change the world, you just have to remember to get out and do it. Don’t just retweet other people’s opinions; form your own and act upon them.

You are not as fat as you imagine, and you don’t need to be as skinny as you imagine, either. Keep it under “clinically obese” and you’re probably going to be fine. And even if you can’t, it doesn’t make you a bad person.

Don’t get crazy about diets. Human beings have done just fine on this planet for a few thousand years, eating pretty much everything that wasn’t nailed down. Eat whatever you like in moderation, and you’ll probably be fine. And if you’re not fine, it probably wasn’t anything you ate.

Don’t worry about the future, but do try to make plans. You don’t need to know what you’re going to be doing when you’re forty, but it’d be nice if you had some basic goals and tried to work toward them. Mainly try to enjoy the journey. Turns out it’s short enough.

Do one thing, every day, that helps someone else. Even in a small way.

Smile more.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, and don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours. That one’s as true today as it was twenty years ago.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. You’ve no idea what that person sacrificed to get what they have, and you’ve no idea how jealous they are of you. Life isn’t a zero-sum game, and you can probably earn whatever you need if you’re diligent about it.

Try not to use the word “should” when you talk to other people.

You probably have no idea what a love letter or a bank statement is, so don’t worry about them. Honestly, they were pretty overrated. But keep your embarrassing photos and selfies, because one day they’re going to make you very happy.

Love your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be ashamed of it, and don’t be afraid of what other people think of it. It’s the only thing you will always have. It might be better in ten years than it is today, but it also might be worse. Take care of it, and it will take care of you for as long as it can.

Plan for little things to go wrong. Pack an extra pair of clothes when you fly. You’ll be delighted when nothing does go wrong, and you’ll be ready if something does.

The past few years of school have not been the best years of your life. If in thirty years that turns out to not be true, then you’ve been doing it wrong.

Most of your friends are not really your friends. Look out for those few who are. Cherish them. When you argue, make up. When you fall out of touch, try hard to reconnect. They’re the ones who can provide context to your life, and you’ll need that as life throws itself at you.

Watch liberal-leaning news in the mornings, but shut it off before it makes you soft. Watch conservative-leaning news in the afternoons, but shut it off before it makes you hard. Eventually, stop watching the news. Most of it is biased and at least partially false, and that has always been the case.

Worry more about local politics than national ones. They’ll affect your daily life a lot more seriously, and you can impact them a lot more profoundly.

Accept certain inalienable truths: prices have never actually been lower, politicians have always tried to lie to us and divide us, and you will absolutely get along anyway. The real problems in your life will be the ones close to you: in your own home, or on your own block. That’s also where the real joys in your life will come from. Seek them out.

Be careful whose advice you buy, be patient with those who supply it for free, and then follow your heart anyway. Advice is a form of time-travel: it’s a way of traveling to the past and making different choices. Which, of course, nobody can do.

But trust me on the sunscreen.


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