With the graduation season quickly approaching, it’s time to stock up on Dr. Seuss classics so young minds can be encouraged to reach beyond their imaginations and strive to achieve far-reaching dreams as they go through life to, oh, the places. But what if your particular graduate should receive a different, more practical message? A great many life lessons can be wrought from these classics:
- Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen | Life Lesson: Don’t settle.
Is it your fault that your father has a deficient Y chromosome and can only produce Xs, thus rendering the estate and all fortune (or lack of) lost if you do not marry the dreadful Mr. Collins? Learn this mantra: Not. My. Fault. But at the same time, take care. It would be nonsensical to judge rashly.
- The Iliad by Homer | Life Lesson: Eat breakfast.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Nourishment was a requirement for Odysseus before charging into battle. Are we crazy? Or does this assertion play out in Shelby Foote’s Civil War Narrative?
- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas | Life Lesson: Don’t be gullible.
Monsieur Villefort will not judge me. He is my friend. He’s more than justice, he is goodness itself! Edmond, Edmond, Edmond. It only took you 14 years of imprisonment to learn that you can only trust people who elevate you, not those who denigrate. You can trust Corsicans named Jacopo. Villefort, Mercedes, Danglers, or people with three first names? Not so much.
- 1984 by George Orwell | Life Lesson: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
Hello, N.S.A. How long have you been standing there; reading every idk, smirking with each lol? Did you think my tone was bitchy? Why didn’t you tell me that I’d regret pushing send? [sigh] Electronic fingerprints are traceable long after the delete key is pressed. For this reason, graduate, you should write letters. Real letters. With ink and stamps and all that rot. And then burn said letters.
- Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White | Life Lesson: You’re born. You live. You die.
Loosen the hell up. Ounce of prevention… pound of cure… yeah yeah.
- The Divine Comedy by Dante | Life Lesson: First love for the win.
Let your first love–whatever it is–carry you to remarkable heights. Aptitude tests are overrated. What did you like to do when you were young? Love what you do and love whom you love. Don’t go through hell to figure it out.
- Metamorphoses by Ovid | Life Lesson: Nothing is only what it appears to be. Or, everything changes.
Oh, those gods can be stealthy; testing the unsuspecting, doling out final marks with more levity than a simple pass/fail. It’s true that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Respect is how you treat a person regardless of their presence in the room. Use caution when speaking of others. That person you’re dissing just might be the Director of Human Resources.
- A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving | Life Lesson: Undecided is okay.
You might not have known you wanted to be a pediatric oncologist since third grade. You might be possessed of small stature and a squeaky, shouty voice that can only be expressed in capital letters. But as long as you work with what you’ve got, your gift will find its place in the world. And the world needs your gift.
- Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins | Life Lesson: Find the spark.
Joy and beauty come in surprising forms, and you must never stop looking for the spark that keeps you alive. Stop and smell the wildflowers, take an afternoon bath, love the people around you with unbridled enthusiasm—it keeps you living in the moment.
- The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin | Life Lesson: Know yourself.
Laws, schools, governments, rules. These are human impositions upon a natural world. Know yourself beyond the structured life of civilization and you will understand your role in the world.