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Advice, like youth, usually comes off as pedantic and unoriginal

| Friday, April 23, 2021

Editor’s note: The following letter includes mentions of suicide.

When I was a senior in high school, I competed to give one of the commencement speeches for my class’ graduation. Unfortunately, I was not chosen. But much like Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune, a deep-seated desire to provide some solemn words of wisdom that I had amassed over time has stayed with me. And with both the academic year and my time at Notre Dame coming to an end, I hope you will indulge that desire for a few minutes.

To the class of 2021:

Don’t just wear sunscreen.

If you get nothing else from this article, it is that you should not only rely on sunscreen. Most medical evidence today suggests that while sunscreen is highly effective, there is a tendency for those who put it on to stay out in the sun longer than they should, increasing your risk of developing skin cancer. An overconfidence in the effectiveness of sunscreen can be quite harmful. I say this because there is a strong scientific basis to support it. As opposed to the rest of my advice, which is based solely on overcoming my many years of inexperience. Never leave things left unsaid. Good, bad or in-between. Tell your parents you love them. And then tell them you, in fact, will not go to law school, despite how much they spent on that LSAT prep course. The question of “What if?” will rob you of your peace. Try not to dwell on it — even though we both still will. Sing with abandon. I personally believe it is most therapeutic when done off-key.

You should not smoke cigarettes. But for the love of God, if you do, always make sure to brush your teeth before you pass out. Just trust me. Dating and graduate school have one thing in common — the better you get with handling rejection, the more successful you will be in both endeavors. Never fear heartache. Some of the hardest choices you make may break your heart or someone else’s. But much like any part of you, it is quite a resilient muscle. Don’t be afraid to flex it. Don’t microwave jalapeños. Once you open the microwave, you’re essentially pepper spraying yourself. Forgiveness and closure are not guaranteed in this world. At most, they are gifts you are best never expected to be bestowed and should be incredibly grateful if you are ever given. Go to the movies by yourself. There’s something restorative about being in complete darkness, illuminated by that vast light, with a face full of popcorn and a blue raspberry ICEE off to the side. It’s one of the last socially acceptable bastions to turn off your phone and unplug from the world, so take full advantage of it. Seek help whenever you need it. As someone who has seriously contemplated suicide, seeking out help is the only reason I’m still alive today.

In the words of a colleague, “You can’t force friendship.” Be willing to know who to keep and to know when to keep your distance. Respect people, not authority. Yeah, I’m a Ph.D., but I also didn’t know that “blue raspberries” weren’t a real fruit until I was 25. Titles mean nothing until the person proves their worth.

But everyone is worthy of basic respect. There is a fine line between curiosity and conspiracy. Tread carefully. Never forget the luck it took to get here; allow it to humble you. Never discount the hard work either; allow it to empower you. Use the latter to keep going when it feels like the former has run out. If we have learned anything this last year, it is that we are all quite miserable. A little kindness and grace (for yourself and others) can go a long way. Remember — copying without attribution is plagiarism. Inspiration with citation is the hallmark of all academic endeavors. (See the beginning of this piece.) Listen to your gut. It’s usually right — if not immediately, then at least retrospectively. If nothing else works, a nap can’t hurt. Advice is like literature; there’s only so many different stories, but an infinite number of ways to tell them. Sometimes that difference in context may be the thing that gets it to stick with someone in a way that would wholly be rejected by somebody else. It’s also like literature in that just because it’s written down, that doesn’t mean it’s any good. Except that thing about the sunscreen.

Amir M. Sadeh

postdoctoral fellow

April 19

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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