On June 1st, 1997, Mary Schmich, a writer for the Chicago Tribune, penned an article entitled Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young.
She opened by explaining that most adults want to try their hand at writing a commencement speech and goes on to say, “I encourage anyone over 26 to try this and thank you for indulging my attempt,” before writing what is arguably the best commencement speech I’ve ever read.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with “Wear Sunscreen,” check out the Baz Luhrmann version (it was turned into a catchy song) now.
This is one of the strongest pieces of motivational writing I’ve ever experienced. Even now, I just took the time to stop and completely focus on re-listening to the words. It’s absolutely fantastic. But enough fan-girling that was all background.
I wanted to pick at one line:
Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.
Ever since I first became obsessed with this speech, I decided I wanted to live in New York City at least once in my life—blocking out that ultimatum that came at the end.
I’ve been in New York City for two and a half months now and though it has tested my street smarts and my independence in more ways than I could have ever imagined, I don’t think I’ll let it make me hard.
Let me explain: For a while, I was a heads down, leave me alone New Yorker. I knew enough to know that as a young female walking alone in the city, I had to be on guard. I would always replay Sunscreen in my head and wonder if I was becoming hard to seeing the homeless and beggers on the streets. I wondered if I would lose my humanity or my trust in people entirely.
I have always been trusting—to a fault. I forgive too quickly and trust endlessly despite what experience has taught me. But still, New York hasn’t taken that from me.
Let me explain: Yes, I’m constantly on guard. I’m aware of where I’m walking—especially at night—and I definitely wouldn’t leave my computer on the library table when I go to the bathroom like I could at my tiny Pennsylvania college. I’m wary of things that look suspicious and I do everything in my power to make sure I am keeping myself safe. But New York hasn’t made me hard.
My second weekend in New York was the biggest blizzard I’ve ever seen. The entire city shut down and it was one of the most magical and remarkable things I’ve ever experienced. I derailed myself from the library and instead found myself in Central Park with the rest of the hopeless children of winter.
There were little kids being pulled on sleds and puppies discovering the frosty powder for the first time. I saw couples sitting on benches and friends building snowman. It was straight from a movie, only I was experiencing it.
That was the day I made my first friend—not because I was on guard of strangers or hardened by New York—but because I saw a girl about my age that was also walking through the park alone and I took a chance.
Are you just kind of walking through the park too?
We exchanged pleasantries and as we were both at the point of ready to continue walking we decided to walk together. Just like that, I made my first friend in the city. (Shout out to Lisa)! We walked through the park and took pictures of the snow. We went to a coffee shop and were then kicked out when everything shut down. We pushed an ambulance out of the snow. We found the one convenience store and one pizza place in the entire area that was still open. We exchanged information and she became the greatest friend.
New York hasn’t made me hard. New York has made me aware and independent and strong, but New York has dulled my inquisition for human stories, quite the opposite. New York has spoiled me into awe and wonder.
I can leave in my apartment and within a 1 block radius have authentic food from five continents. I can sit in the Italian pizza parlor next to an Asian family and watch a man setting up his African art and craft table on the sidewalk, complete with tribal music, while Hispanic women walk by speaking Spanish. (True story).
It’s completely beautiful to be surrounded with so much diversity, not just in race or creed but in story, and the more I talk to people, the more I realize how incredible it is for us to share this crowded city.
New York hasn’t made me hard. Quite the opposite. New York has made me suck the marrow out of each day and learn from the people whose backgrounds differ so greatly from my own.
I have to agree and disagree with Ms. Schmich:
Live in New York City once, and realize that it will become whatever you make it.
I’ve heard this place can knock you to the ground if you let it…that it’ll beat you up and toss you out and have no regard for the exorbitant amount of money it costs you to buy a loaf of bread and a carton of milk each week. But it will also provide you with amazing opportunities, stunning parks, and fantastic people.
I’m living in this twisted mix of beautiful, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. After all, it’s a Big Apple with a lot of world crammed inside.