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Mr. Rogers' powerful speech to graduates in 2002 about what's important in life still resonates today

Fred Rogers in his address inspires students to function in a way that can honor those who trust them.

Mr. Rogers' powerful speech to graduates in 2002 about what's important in life still resonates today
Cover Image Source: YouTube | Dartmouth

Over the years Dartmouth has witnessed some amazing commencement speeches. Some recent favorites include Shonda Rhimes and Mindy Kaling's address, but the one that has stood the test of time is the one given during the graduation ceremony of 2002 by none other than Fred Rogers. Fred Rogers was a celebrated author as well as host and featured in the preschool television series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. 2002 was not an easy year for America as a country, having recently undergone the Twin Towers attack.

Fred Rogers, the host of the children's television series,
Fred Rogers, the host of the children's television series, "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," rests his arms on a small trolley in this promotional portrait from the 1980's. (Photo by Family Communications Inc./Getty Images)

 

 



 

His commencement speech was the perfect combination of optimism and essential lessons for the students going into the real world which shared no similarity with the world in which they previously resided. The speech was filled with valuable life lessons. Rogers began his address by recognizing the struggle that the people of Hanover faced in the last few months. He appreciated them for handling the things life threw at them with dignity and considered himself to be privileged that he could be in the company of such individuals. He then went on to talk about the changes that he can see from the time he was in Dartmouth to when he was giving this speech. He pointed out how hardly anyone had a 'television set' at that time.


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Fred Rogers Productions (@fredrogersproductions)


 

He emphasized the positive changes such as the betterment of the conditions of women- "Yes. When I was here, the first word of the alma mater was 'Men. Men of Dartmouth give a rouse.' Well, now the first word is 'Dear.' Some things change for the better".This rings true even in the present, as people are dealing with changes and oftentimes the reaction to these changes are not positive.

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 23: A general view of atmosphere as the U.S. Postal Service Dedicates the Mister Rogers Forever Stamp at WQED's Fred Rogers Studio on March 23, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvani (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 23: A general view of the atmosphere as the U.S. Postal Service Dedicates the Mister Rogers Forever Stamp at WQED's Fred Rogers Studio on March 23, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

 

People are attempting to damage LGBTQ Rights and take away the liberty of women, reversing the development that humans and change that has been garnered over the years. Rogers' speech is a testament to the fact that change when positive should be appreciated and adapted. Rogers then explained the importance of having and appreciating people around you who invest in you and believe in your potential. He talked about his Astronomy Professor, George Dimitrov who invested in him and tried to find the best in him when he himself did not have the confidence.


 
 
 
 
 
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He then goes on to request these students to create genuine bonds with each other because despite the differences the humanity within them acts as a connection- "Our world hangs like a magnificent jewel in the vastness of space. Every one of us is a part of that jewel. A facet of that jewel. And in the perspective of infinity, our differences are infinitesimal. We are intimately related. May we never even pretend that we are not." He then shares the story of nine runners in the Olympics who chose to help each other and complete the race at the same time, when one of them fell down.



 

These lines hit close to home for each of the students as they were dealing with the aftermath of the terrorist attack. Through these lines, Rogers wanted to communicate that the only way Americans get out of this dark period is through the support of each other. He wanted to emphasize that at this time people should set aside the differences they have to walk forward as a unit.

Rogers' next teaching to the students in the address was to never doubt their uniqueness and contribution. He spoke about his personal experience sitting in on cello class, where Yo-Yo Ma told one young man- “Nobody else can make the sound you make.” Through this Rogers wanted to imply that there might be times students think that their decisions do not matter in the big picture, but he wants to remind them that they do. He wants them to know that their decisions build the country and matter, that their identity matters, and that they should never belittle it, no matter how much the world persuades them.


 
 
 
 
 
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Rogers shared his belief that no one can bring to the table the things another person might. It is through the choices made at the personal level, that things like healing and suicide bombing take place. It is the individual responsibility that a human chooses to function with that can stop things from happening or make them happen.

Rogers then comes back to the importance of human relationships. He asks the students to remember the people that believed in them since- L’essential est invisible pour les yeux." The saying translates to that what is essential is not visible. In Rogers's opinion, it is the people around you that are important, and your decisions should honor and benefit them in the long run.

He believes that it is not the laurels that ultimately can provide humans with comfort but the fact someone trusts them, and therefore human action should value as well as respect that trust. Therefore he asks the students to remember the people that trusted them in their moment of glory and act from a place of love for them, in order to honor them.


 
 
 
 
 
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He concludes the speech by wishing that the students find the courage to make the decisions that not only make them better but also their neighbors. The teachings of the speech surely touched the heart of the people present and gave them a principled way to conduct themselves.

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