Our small group of family and friends reveled in the graduation ceremonies, knowing that the last of me and my wife’s four children was getting his degree. Men’s heads and the women’s shoulders were bare, and we took little notice that we were doing a slow roast in the hot sun.

California has fickle weather. It can be sunny with cool ocean breezes, or cloudy with little expectation of rain. You’re often confused as to what to wear. Such was the case as we gathered in the quad bleachers at California State University, Long Beach, to watch as my youngest son, Brandon, join his graduating class.

We were dressed casually, and just in case the breeze off the ocean got a little too cool, we were prepared. I brought along a silk-wool blend sport coat–something I’d certainly never take, if I was convinced the weather would be warm. I just wanted to be ready in case it cooled off more. Corliss, my wife, wore jeans and a top with thin straps, but she also carried a light sweater.

George and Carolyn, dear friends who had accompanied us to the ceremony, were prepared also. Before we left, I asked George if he had a jacket, thinking I would loan him one, if he needed it. He said, yes, but he had to get it from their car, which he did. You see, we were thinking it might remain a cool day, because it had been overcast and cool most of the morning.

We arrived on the campus about noon, at least an hour before the ceremony was to begin.

Brandon had warned us that there would be a huge crowd. He was absolutely right. By one o’clock the overcast sky had cleared, but the ceremonies still had not begun. The bright sun was beginning to smile at us.

The thought of carrying sunblock never occurred to any of our group of about 12 people. In fact, only Carolyn had thought to bring a hat. It took about an hour and a half for the 800 to 900 graduates to receive their degrees. By that time, the sun was no longer smiling. It was grinning at us.

After the ceremony had concluded, the top of my hairless dome and my forehead were burned. My wife’s neck and shoulders had taken the brunt of the sun’s rays. Our middle son, Brian, showed the effects of the sun in the redness of his face. Our oldest son, Steve, was burned on his nose. The sun was now cracking up.

The moral of this story: Don’t ever think you’re too dark to burn. Unless you’re one of those cloistered souls who either spend their lives under a tree, an umbrella or hiding in the shadows, the sun will get you if you’re exposed long enough. My wife and I are both brown-skinned, and all but one person in our group is lighter complexioned than we are. Oddly, Corliss got it worse than any of the rest.

In fact, I’d forgotten a lesson I’d learned the hard way as a single man four decades ago while on a Caribbean vacation. Never thinking that I could burn, I spent practically the whole day lying under the Jamaican sun without using sunblock or sunscreen. It wasn’t until I was in my room and under a cool shower that I realized something was wrong. Every time I rubbed my arm or face it was as if the wash towel carried an electric current.

For a moment I was puzzled, but then I had my first inkling that I might be understanding what the sun was trying to teach me–being unprotected under his rays for hours is a no-no. A few days later I looked like a reptile shedding its skin.

For those who don’t know, here is some information about sunblock and sunscreen.

Acording to Kenneth A. Arndt, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, “sunblock is opaque and blocks almost all of the sun’s UVA and rays. Sunblock does not have to be reapplied every few hours.

“Sunscreens are less visible on the skin, and are designed to protect against UVA, UVB, or both. They do allow some radiation through and need to be reapplied every few hours because their ingredients break down after exposure to sunlight. If you use sunscreen, it is better to use one that has a high SPF, put on a lot, and reapply every two to three hours.”

So if you’re planning on spending lots of time in the sun this summer, be wise and take your sunblock or sunscreen.