Print

Print


Ed,

There is a piece in today's Chronicle of Higher Ed  on-line version that
this is the most popular commencement address but is a hoax.  Vonnegut
never wrote it. Here is portion of that article.  T



 Commencement Speech by Vonnegut
 Is Revealed as On-Line Hoax

 By JEFFREY R. YOUNG

 It could justifiably be called the most memorable commencement speech of
the year,
 at least among Internet users who have been circulating it by electronic
mail. It
 begins:

        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.

 The rest of the speech consists of a rapid-fire burst of witticisms, such
as "Floss,"
 "Get plenty of calcium," and "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."

 It sounds like something Kurt Vonnegut might say. And, in fact, many
copies of the  speech circulating on line bear the heading, "Vonnegut's
M.I.T.Commencement Address."

 Naturally, the press office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
has been fielding dozens of e-mail requests for copies of the commencement
speech.Lisa Damtoft, who answers those messages for the press office,
dutifully has sent back this year's words of wisdom. But some recipients
have probably been disappointed to get a speech by Kofi A. Annan,
Secretary General of the United Nations, who actually spoke at M.I.T.'s
commencement, on June 6.

 After a little detective work, Ms. Damtoft found out that the "sunscreen"
speech had  never been delivered at all. It is a fictional commencement
address,written by Mary Schmich, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, and
published on June 1 in that newspaper. Ms. Schmich begins her column,
"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." The article makes no reference to Mr.
 Vonnegut.

 In fact, Ms. Schmich said Monday that she had not read a word by the
author since  college. "I had not given Kurt Vonnegut a second thought
since 1975," she said. "I  couldn't imitate Kurt Vonnegut if I tried."

 But for some reason, someone decided to give the remarks a new author and
 context. And many people, accepting the words as Mr. Vonnegut's, simply
passed  the message on to friends. "You know what," said Ms. Schmich, "had
I gotten it, I wouldn't have questioned the source either."

Georgine Materniak
Director
University of Pittsburgh
Learning Skills Center
311 William Pitt Union
Pittsburgh, PA  15260
phone:  (412)648-7920
fax:    (412)648-7924
e-mail: [log in to unmask]