'Assume The Worst': The Advice Carl Hiaasen Would Give To Graduates (If He Could)

May 1, 2018
Originally published on May 11, 2018 7:11 am

It’s May: the start of graduation season. Speakers everywhere will try to live up to the wise words of what was rumored to be Kurt Vonnegut — then revealed to be a column from The Chicago Tribune’s Mary Schmich — which Baz Luhrmann made into a hit in the ’90s.

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In her column, Schmich suggests graduates not only “wear sunscreen,” but sing, floss, don’t “be reckless with other people’s hearts” and “do one thing every day that scares you.”

Author and Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen has a different take, and dispenses his own brand of advice in “Assume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You’ll Never Hear,” which features illustrations by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast.

Hiaasen (@Carl_Hiaasen) joins Here & Now‘s Robin Young to talk about the book, which he says was inspired by his own son heading off to start college.

Interview Highlights

On one common piece of graduation speech advice: “Live every day as if it’s your last”

“It’s ridiculous. My advice is, ‘Live every day as if your rent is due tomorrow.’ I mean, ‘live every day as if it’s your last’ is terrific advice for a Labrador retriever, because that’s how they live. But if you’re going into the real world, as we know in 2018, you have to arm your kids with some reality and armor them with some preparation for what’s out there.”

On another: “Try to find goodness in everyone you meet”

“Total waste of time. If you spend 5 minutes with somebody, and their goodness and their decency isn’t manifest in 5 minutes, move on, say goodbye, because they’re not anyone you wanna hang with. I mean, you have to move quick, you have to have quick judgments, because you’re being judged all the time. The world we’re sending our kids into judges quickly and harshly, and you have to get attuned to that.”

On not being a complete cynic

“No, and I based this because I have a son who’s going off to college this year. And I thought, what words could I possibly say to him that would be helpful? Not just ‘reach for your dreams,’ ‘reach for the sky.’ That’s great, but the reality is that the limit is actually probably much lower than the sky for most people — even bright, talented, smart people. Get good at something, go do it and then go out and do good things. You mentioned earlier one of those speeches where it says, ‘Do something scary every day.’ Well, I still write for The Miami Herald and the scariest thing I do every day is look at the headlines.”

On how Chast’s shaky, squiggly illustrations compliment the book

“She was asked about that, and she says, ‘Well I think I was probably born anxious.’ And her view and my view of reality and the world are very similar, it turns out, and that’s not just doom and gloom. It’s sort of more like, ‘OK brace yourself, because here is the reality. But you can still go out and do wonderful fantastic things.’ And if I were talking to a real class — they’ll never let me give this speech — but if I was, and I would look out in that audience, you could predict with absolute certainty that there is gonna be some incredible, great work [to] come out of the kids that you’re looking at. There’s no doubt about it, they’re gonna do terrific things and change people’s lives for the better. And there’s also just as predictably, you can say that some of them are really just gonna just take up oxygen, and that’s gonna be it. They’re going to max out as organisms, and not contribute much. That’s true, too.”

On the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in his home state of Florida

“That was … of course, I mean I went to high school about 10 miles from where the Parkland high school is, so it hit home to me. I know people whose children were at that school, and my own son being in high school in a Florida public high school. … But to see [the students] rise up like this, and the strength they have in the face of some very vicious sort of online conspiracy theory attacks, and those nut jobs coming after them, that’s been inspiring.

“But it goes to the point of what I was saying, is that all this is possible, but none of it is easy. They were thrown into the most hideous situations imaginable. Yet here they are strong, and their voices are loud, and they know how to work the internet and they know how to go online and not only defend themselves, but advance their beliefs. These are tools we never had when we were kids. Now, look at what’s happening.”

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