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 Misattributions to Nelson Mandela and Kurt Vonnegut Jnr.

Misattributions to Nelson Mandela and Kurt Vonnegut Jnr. (With apologies to the real writers)

Nelson Mandela Did Not Speak This Quote.

It was a little disappointing to me to hear this, too. I love Mandela and what he stands for, and would like to think that he said this as well as all of the other wonderful things he has spoken.

The correct attribution is to an author and lecturer named Marianne Williamson in her book "A Return to Love" on page 165 of the 1992 Hardback edition.

I have not looked this up myself, but my source is below:

From [email protected] Tue Sep 9 01:38:24 1997
Date: Wed, 09 Apr 1997 12:28:32 -0700
From: Gene Menzies
To: [email protected]
Subject: "Mandela quote"

One of your web pages attributes the quote "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. etc" to President Nelson Mandela. I have written to the African National Congress. They have stated, quite emphatically, that President Mandela did not author those words and he did not use them in any speech.

The correct attribute is to an author and lecturer named Marianne
Williamson in her book "A Return to Love" on page 165 of the 1992
Hardback edition.

From [email protected] Tue Sep 9 01:38:32 1997
Date: Wed, 9 Apr 1997 19:35:57 -0400
From: Gene Menzies
To: airyn darling
Subject: Re: "Mandela quote"


Actually, I love this quote so much, that I have quoted it to many other people (on and offline), always attributing it to President Mandela. I wanted to read the whole speech by President Mandela thinking that if this quote was so good that the whole speech would also be great.

I searched on the net and found a complete listing of all his speeches (try www.anc.org.za for their web site). I reviewed them all. Imagine my chagrin when there was not quote anywhere near the one we are discussing in his speeches. I wrote to the ANC (African National Congress) to get the straight scoop.

The ANC answered:

--Hello Gene

We are getting constant enquiries about this.

President Mandela has never used the words you quoted above in any of his speeches.

They have been mistakenly atributed to one of his speeches.

Now I was somewhat embarrassed. I don't like to be wrong or to spread the wrong information. So I found out who actually wrote the quote and who had the wrong attribution. I sent an email to them like the one you received.

This is a common enough occurance on the net -- case in point the recent flurries of the alleged MIT commencement speech given by Kurt Vonnegut, that began with the now-famous words, "Wear sunscreen." This "speech" was actually a column written by a woman named Mary Schmich. Here is the original post, followed by her column after finding out what had happened.

From Tue Sep 9 01:52:11 1997
Date: Mon, 4 Aug 1997 11:01:57 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Good Speech (fw)

Well, *I* consider Vonnegut an SF writer, and I know several of you love him too... this was just too good to pass up, forgive the off-topicness.

This was Kurt Vonnegut's commencement address at MIT.

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of '97:

Wear sunscreen.

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. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.


Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone.

Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don't follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live
in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out

Don't mess too much with your hair or by the time you're 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

From Tue Sep 9 01:52:21 1997
Date: Mon, 08 Sep 1997 08:07:32 -0700
Subject: Will the real Kurt please stand up

Vonnegut? Schmich? Who can tell in cyberspace

Mary Schmich
Web-posted: Saturday, August 2, 1997

I am Kurt Vonnegut.

Oh, Kurt Vonnegut may appear to be a brilliant, revered male novelist. I may appear to be a mediocre and virtually unknown female newspaper columnist. We may appear to have nothing in common but unruly hair.

But out in the lawless swamp of cyberspace, Mr. Vonnegut and I are one. Out there, where any snake can masquerade as king, both of us are the author of a graduation speech that began with the immortal words, "Wear sunscreen."

I was alerted to my bond with Mr. Vonnegut Friday morning by several callers and email correspondents who reported that the sunscreen speech was rocketing through the cyberswamp, from L.A. to New York to Scotland, in a vast email chain letter.

Friends had emailed it to friends, who emailed it to more friends, all of whom were told it was the commencement address given to the graduating class at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The speaker was allegedly Kurt Vonnegut.

Imagine Mr. Vonnegut's surprise. He was not, and never has been, MIT's commencement speaker. Imagine my surprise. I recall composing that little speech one Friday afternoon while high on coffee and M&M's. It appeared in this space on June 1. It included such deep thoughts as "Sing," "Floss," and "Don't mess too much with your hair." It was not art.

But out in the cyberswamp, truth is whatever you say it is, and my simple thoughts on floss and sunscreen were being passed around as Kurt Vonnegut's eternal wisdom.

Poor man. He didn't deserve to have his reputation sullied in this way.

So I called a Los Angles book reviewer, with whom I'd never spoken, hoping he could help me find Mr. Vonnegut.

"You mean that thing about sunscreen?" he said when I explained the situation. "I got that. It was brilliant. He didn't write that?"

He didn't know how to find Mr. Vonnegut. I tried MIT.

"You wrote that?" said Lisa Damtoft in the news office. She said MIT had received many calls and emails on this year's "sunscreen" commencement speech. But not everyone was sure: Who had been the speaker?

The speaker on June 6 was Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations, who did not, as Mr. Vonnegut and I did in our speech, urge his graduates to "dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room." He didn't mention sunscreen.

As I continued my quest for Mr. Vonnegut --his publisher had taken the afternoon off, his agent didn't answer --reports of his "sunscreen" speech kept pouring in.

A friend called from Michigan. He'd read my column several weeks ago. Friday morning he received it again --in an email from his boss. This time it was not an ordinary column by an ordinary columnist. Now it was literature by Kurt Vonnegut.

Fortunately, not everyone who read the speech believed it was Mr. Vonnegut's.

"The voice wasn't quite his," sniffed one doubting contributor to a Vonnegut chat group on the Internet. "It was slightly off --a little too jokey, a little too cute . . . a little too `Seinfeld.' "

Hoping to find the source of this prank, I traced one email backward from its last recipient, Hank De Zutter, a professor at Malcolm X College in Chicago. He received it from a relative in New York, who received it from a film producer in New York, who received it from a TV producer in Denver, who received it from his sister, who received it.

I realized the pursuit of culprit zero would be endless. I gave up.

I did, however, finally track down Mr. Vonnegut. He picked up his own phone. He'd heard about the sunscreen speech from his lawyer, from friends, from a women's magazine that wanted to reprint it until he denied he wrote it.

"It was very witty, but it wasn't my wittiness," he generously said.

Reams could be written on the lessons in this episode. Space confines me to two.

One: I should put Kurt Vonnegut's name on my column. It would be like sticking a Calvin Klein label on a pair of K-Mart jeans.

Two: Cyberspace, in Mr. Vonnegut's word, is "spooky."

email Mary Schmich at [email protected]

So there you have it. Two miscredits all cleared up, buh-bye now.

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