“Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen” is a song I’ve cherished for a long time. I first heard it in middle school as my friend’s mom drove us up Fremont on our way to The Big Slice. She had the windows rolled down in her red sports car, and the wind was blowing in my hair.
It’s a weird song — a spoken-word, slow tempo, easygoing tune that invites its listeners to take a stroll with the narrator. Baz Luhrmann took a fictional graduation speech and then laid it on top of some simple drums and lethargic electric guitar.
“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”
Then the song launches into about 5 minutes of earnest, nostalgic advice for the soon-to-be graduates, like being kind to your knees and respecting your elders. I’ve listened to the song about a thousand times since that day in Maddie’s mom’s car, and it’s stayed with me, meaning different things to me, for the last decade or so.
At different parts of my life, different parts of the song made sense, weighed heavier than others, felt more important than others. Now that the big, daunting event that is commencement is hurtling toward me faster than I could ever imagine, I’m seeing the song in a whole new light.
Being a student has been an integral part of my identity since I was six. In a few short days, I’ll no longer be able to call myself one. The very thought makes my stomach churn. I’ll need to find new ways to describe myself and find new means of identity, although my time as a student will undoubtedly continue to be inextricably tied to who I am.
Even though I’m certainly grateful to be done with the exams and essays and group presentations, I’m going to miss college dearly. I’ll miss my professors, my classmates, my peers at The Standard and everyone else who made my time at university special.
In October 2019, I went through a nasty breakup. It’s weird to think about this awful time in my life as an important, pivotal part, but it’s true. She was my whole life, and now she’s not in my life at all. Almost two years removed from it, I still feel the echoes of the endeavor: who I was, who we were.
I don’t hold any resentment, not anymore.
But when the wounds were still fresh, I didn’t know who I was. My life was so holistically tied to her, and this abrupt change left me totally lost. Anyone who’s ended a long-term, serious romantic relationship knows what this feels like.
My sophomore year was probably the worst part of my life, but I’m proud of myself for turning it around. I was sad, angry and lost for close to six months. It takes a long time for things to start to feel normal again, to start to feel like yourself again.
It was a long period of self-reflection, of asking myself difficult questions and of being deeply uncomfortable with my answers. That discomfort was the catalyst for change. I knew I absolutely needed to make changes if I was to ever get over this breakup and become my own person again. It was perhaps the most important thing I’ve ever done.
Slowly, I got better. I renewed my energy at my internship. I caught up with friends. I started going to the gym. And I joined The Standard. It was something I’d wanted to do since enrolling at MSU, but before sophomore year all of my free time went to my then-girlfriend.
In more ways than one, I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t gotten my heart broken. I wouldn’t have joined The Standard, wouldn’t have thrown my hat in the ring for the digital editor position for the 20-21 school year and wouldn’t have met the likes of Greta, Todd and Stephen, people who I’ll remember fondly for the rest of my life.
A year after that, I pushed past chronic imposter syndrome and chased away fears of failure to apply for the editor-in-chief role at The Standard. I am so, so glad I did, not just because I was hired, but because it was proof that I am worthy of success, respect and growth. Nothing has been more rewarding than this affirmation.
Now I get to lead a team of talented and dedicated students who are changing the world. I owe a thousand thanks to the 21-22 Standard editorial board — Desiree, Russ, Stephen, Tinsley and our incoming EIC Lillian. They all work so hard.
My time as EIC has been endlessly valuable. I loved training new reporters, budgeting stories, damn-near going crazy during long production days (The Standard’s page designers build special sections and send the pages to the printer all in one day) and doing journalism that makes my heart race – all to the tune of the band students practicing snare drums in the shared lawn between Wehr Band Hall and Clay Hall.
I think back to the time I was crying laughing playing Quiplash with The Standard staff at our winter holiday party, or to the unforgettable Uber drivers during the field trip to St. Jo for the Missouri College Media Association awards ceremony (shout-outs to Donald and Yoley!) and I can tell I’m going to miss it all dearly.
When I look back on my four years in college, I’m reminded of the Dr. Seuss book “Because a Little Bug Went Ka-choo!” In the book, one little sneeze has a domino-effect of consequences, which snowball into a chaotic scene that carries the readers through the whole book.
I think we’re all like that little bug.
One small decision can affect big change. Even if that change isn’t always for the good, I truly believe that every experience has value. Our job is to look for that value and learn something.
… But trust me on the sunscreen.
Follow Diana Dudenhoeffer on Twitter, @kisstein
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