Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
Dear Ann Landers
I had a great talk recently with a writer in Iowa named Emery Styron, who was the editor and publisher of the local Mt. Pleasant News for 11 years.
He told me the story of his brush with fame back in 1997. It’s about graduations and what happens afterward, so I asked if I could share it here. Emery did me one better and wrote the story himself. Here it is.
Dear Ann Landers
by Emery Styron
In the spring of 1997, I was seething with jealousy.
My younger brother was giving the commencement address at our old high school. Meanwhile, the editor of the Ames Tribune was coming to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa (where I was publisher of the town newspaper) to speak to the graduating class at Iowa Wesleyan.
Why hadn’t anyone invited me to share my wisdom with grads?
I had a weekly newspaper column to fill, so I decided to write what I would have said, if anyone had asked me. The headline: 25 Things You'll Need to Know After High School.
Local response was minimal, but I nearly fell out of my editor’s chair one June morning when I opened a letter with the engraved return address of 4325 North Michigan Ave. in Chicago:
Dear Emery Styron,
One of your loyal readers sent us a copy of your editorial from May 21, offering advice to high school graduates. I found it refreshing as well as insightful and would like to share it with my readers.
My thanks, along with my admiration and for producing such a delightful editorial.
I told nobody but my wife. But, when my friendly pharmacist Dennis Fitzpatrick asked if I had heard from Ann Landers, I knew it was real.
We were staying at a motel in Oklahoma for a family reunion on the weekend it was set to publish. I got up at 6 that morning, walked to the closest convenience store and pulled a thick Sunday Oklahoman from a stack of papers on the counter.
There it was, with a new headline across the top of the page: “Publisher’s Message to Class of ’97 Timeless.”
I bought a stack of papers to hand out at the reunion, so my kin would know they had a big-deal relative.
I imagined the offers I’d receive: Would I be a guest on The Late Show With David Letterman? Write books about my experiences as a country editor?
Back home, the mailbox was stuffed for weeks with letters from strangers. People sent me clippings from across the U.S. and several foreign countries. Long-forgotten acquaintances called or wrote.
But I didn’t hear much from people in Mt. Pleasant.
The problem, I realized, was that we didn't run Ann Landers. We ran her competitor's column: Dear Abby (written by the estranged sister of the woman behind the pseudonymous Ann Landers).
So, I wrote a second column about the experience of having my first column go out to 90 million readers. Then, I sent a copy of that column to Ann Landers, along with my thanks. I treasured her reply:
“Thank you for that sweet letter and the amusing editorial in the Mt. Pleasant News. Now we are even. You provided me with a day’s column and I did the same for you. Cheers from Ann Landers.”
Twenty-five years on, I’m ready to add one more piece of advice to the original column: Get over yourself. The rest of the world did a long time back.
[Note from Bill: Here’s the original column that Ann Landers reprinted 25 years ago. As a quick note, you might notice that item #1 is very close to the title of a best-selling book series, but Emery wrote the column before the book came out, and before he’d heard of it.]
25 Things You'll Need to Know After High School
Attention Graduates: There is the kind of education you get in school and the kind you get afterward. Both are important. Put them together, and you have wisdom.
The trouble is, life is generally half over before you figure out what is going on. Graduating seniors can save 25 years of trial, error and hard knocks by memorizing the lessons of life listed below.
On the average, you learn about one big lesson per year after you leave high school. In really tough years, you learn two or three. Some years, you don't learn anything. After 40, you forget things and have to learn them again.
Some of this information is borrowed. Some is stolen. Some may even be original, but that's doubtful. It's pretty hard to be original in a world as old as this one.
Don't sweat the small stuff, and remember, most stuff is small.
The most boring word in any language is "I."
Nobody is indispensable, especially you.
Life is full of surprises. Just say "never" and you'll see.
People are more important than things.
Persistence will get you almost anything eventually.
Nobody can make you happy. Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
There's so much bad in the best of us and so much good in the worst of us that it doesn't behoove any of us to talk about the rest of us.
Live by what you trust, not by what you fear.
Character counts. Family matters.
Eating out with small children isn't worth it, even if someone else is buying.
If you wait to have kids until you can afford them, you probably never will.
Baby kittens don't begin to open their eyes for six weeks after birth. Men generally take about 26 years.
The world would run a lot smoother if more men knew how to dance.
Television ruins more minds than drugs.
Sometimes there is more to gain in being wrong than right.
Life is so much simpler when you tell the truth.
People who do the world's real work don't usually wear neckties.
A good joke beats a pill for a lot of ailments.
There are no substitutes for fresh air, sunshine and exercise.
A smile is the cheapest way to improve your looks, even if your teeth are crooked.
May you live life so there is standing room only at your funeral.
Mothers always know best, but sometimes fathers know too.
Forgive yourself, your friends and your enemies. You're all only human.
If you don't do anything else in life, love someone and let someone love you.
Call for comments: What else would you add to the list? How does the advice hold up 25 years later? And, what’s your closest brush with fame? Let us know.
7 other things worth knowing today
Many teachers have packed up classrooms for the last time as schools break for summer, as a national teacher shortage threatens to grow. Some 300,000 public-school teachers and other staff left the field between February 2020 and May 2022, a nearly 3% drop in that workforce. (WSJ, $)
Six months ago, Amazon contacted local authorities in this rural town to let them know it planned to launch its long-awaited drone delivery service here. It's not clear the locals actually want the drones. (WashPost)
The International Swimming Federation waded into the issue of transgender swimmers in women's events, banning those who transitioned after turning 12. (Yahoo News)
LYFT pays $25 million to shareholders who say the company failed to be transparent about “safety problems” (which seems like a gentle way to phrase a 2019 lawsuit from 14 women who say they were raped or sexually assaulted by their Lyft drivers), but so far according to reports has paid nothing to the women who were actually assaulted. (Jezebel)
Working from home has become one of the most sought-after perks in business. But, what about the people who hate it? According to a 2022 study by PwC, 11% of US workers would prefer to work full-time in the office, and 62% said they’d like to spend at least some time there. (BBC)
Ford delivered its first F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck. The guy who bought it already owns a Tesla (along with a lot of other trucks). (NPR)
How ice cream became the ultimate American comfort food. (Eater)