The fall semester came to an end last week with final exams and December commencement. The last lesson of the semester was a wonderful commencement address by Hedda Sharapan. After receiving an honorary degree Dr. Sharapan used two clips from Mister Rogers Neighborhood to illustrate Fred Rogers wisdom in choosing what would be shown on his seminal children’s show. The first clip had Mister Rogers and Neighbor Abor attempting to dance to an improvised version of “Head and Shoulders” with folk singer Ella Jenkins (you can watch the full episode or jump right to minute 6 for the song by clicking here). While making a valiant attempt to stay in rhythm, Mister Rogers was out of sync at some points during the song. Despite the sometimes comical missteps, this sequence appeared on the show. The implicit lesson is that not everything in life is perfectly choreographed and no one is perfect all the time, even Mister Rogers. The courage to exemplify this on camera instead of using multiple takes to give the illusion of perfection is one of the many virtues that made Fred Rogers the gold standard of children’s television.
In a second clip that never made the show Fred attempted to construct a tent single-handedly in the front yard of his Neighborhood “home”. After several minutes of fumbling, several times starting over with a smile and positive attitude, he eventually throws the tent down in frustration and abandons the original script. Dr. Sharapan shared that what eventually made the show was Mister Rogers walking outside and telling the audience about the surprise (a tent assembled by the crew) his friends built in the yard. While preference is a very important trait to develop (as Paul Tough’s Threshold Lecture last fall emphasized), there is no shame in asking for help. You can watch Dr. Sharapan’s entire commencement address.
This year we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Fred Rogers Center here at Saint Vincent College. The Center has significantly advanced the fields of early learning and children’s media and is carrying forward the positive, “children-first” message that Fred Rogers championed. Central to the Center’s growth has been Rita Catalano. She has worked at the Center since its inception. Prior to joining the Fred Rogers Center she was the Director of the Grants Office at the College. Under her leadership, grants were awarded to enhance the College’s offerings including establish the College’s graduate programs in education and fund a number of outreach programs partnering with regional school districts. Rita has served as the third Executive Director of the Rogers Center since 2011. In November, Br. Norman presented Rita with the Projektenmacher award in recognition of her creative and unique contributions to Saint Vincent College. At the end of the month Rita will be retiring from Saint Vincent. I will be one of the very many co-workers who will miss her contagious positive attitude, insightful observations, wisdom, and ability to manage any project to a conclusion that exceeds expectations. Rita is pictured below with the Fred Rogers Scholars and Dr. Mellissa Cook, Director of the Fred Rogers Scholars and Chairperson of the Department of Communication.
A number of the Fred Rogers Center programs are collaborative initiatives that include undergraduate students at the College. In its third year, the Fred Rogers Scholars program provides a unique opportunity for selected students from many disciplines. Each year five freshman receive scholarships and join previously-selected Scholars in a four year program of co-curricular activities designed to give these students the tools to improve the lives of children when they graduate – carrying forward the legacy and vision of Fred Rogers. Along the same lines, our new Children’s Studies minor consists of a variety of new courses including the Theology of Children, offered next semester for the first time. This year, Dr. Junlei Li joined the faculty with a duel appointment to the Rogers Center and the department of Psychological Sciences. In just one semester he has made an incredible impact in a number of ways. Students in his 1-4-3 laboratory are conducting research with Dr. Li to uncover and document the often unnoticed acts of love of early childhood educators caring for the children in day-care centers and pre-schools (Dr. Li or one of his students will explain the name of his lab if you ask). Dr. Li conducts his research in the United States and in China. The picture to the right shows Dr. Li with Ms. Rogers during one of his Developmental Psychology classes last semester.
An exciting 2014 year comes to end this week. You have my prayers and best wishes for a blessed and Merry Christmas and Joyous New Year!
Dr. John Smetanka,
Dr. John J. Smetanka has been a member of the full-time faculty since 1997 and currently serves as the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean of Saint Vincent College, a position he has held since January, 2008.