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Pittsburgh Philanthropist, Community Activist Gregg Behr Speaks, Honored at Commencement Dec. 15

Public Relations
Posted: Monday Dec 17, 2012

Dec. 17, 2012

One hundred and seven students – 51 undergraduates and 56 graduates –who completed requirements in August or December received their degrees at the eighth annual December commencement ceremony of Saint Vincent College on Saturday, Dec.15 in the gymnasium of the Robert S. Carey Student Center. Principal speaker was Gregg Behr of Pittsburgh who was also honored with the conferral of an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.

Behr is a scholar, attorney, philanthropist, community activist and an innovative and nationally-known dreamer who wants to turn Pittsburgh into Kidsburgh.

Behr told the graduates and their families and friends to never lose their curiosity that was nurtured at Saint Vincent College. “Indeed, it’s that trust in you and this college – as faithful, serving and curious lifelong learners – that surely attracted Fred Rogers to this campus,” he said. “And it was Fred Rogers – and his legacy – that first brought me to this campus.”

“It’s on this campus that Fred Rogers created what is now known as the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media,” he continued. “It’s a center attracting national and international attention for its leadership in supporting professionals across educational children’s media; for its leadership in equipping early learning teachers, caregivers, and families with top-of-class, online learning materials; and for its leadership in establishing standards for what constitutes high-quality learning in this digital age when even young toddlers outsmart their parents on touch-screens and smart-phones.”

Behr said that the thing he remembers best about successful people is their delight in what they’re doing. “They just love what they’re doing and they love it in front of others,” he noted. “That’s not easy to do. Even on sunny days. But, it’s worth trying.”

He also noted the importance of having hope in the future. “The world’s interesting times will play out on the stages of your lives in very real and very personal ways,” he predicted. “And this place has prepared you well to ask those questions that others might not have the courage to ask.”

Behr concluded his remarks by asking the grads to be like Mr. Rogers. “You don’t have to be Mr. Rogers,” he said. “The world doesn’t need heroes. Rather, what this world needs most is more people with the good stuff. People willing to be like Mr. Rogers every day. Everyday Freds.”

“Today, Pittsburgh stands at the leading edge of a worldwide learning revolution,” Behr concluded. “Leave something of yourself in every hospital room, in every classroom, in every conference room. Be sure it’s the good stuff.”

Kidsburgh is an all-out effort by a large and collaborative group in Pittsburgh to make Pittsburgh the best place for kids on the planet. Kids+Creativity, started by Behr, has long been a resource for Pittsburghers whose work is at the intersection of technology, learning and play. He has served as an informal but constant intermediary among its members. Behr says that in one word, Kidsburgh conveys the sense that Pittsburgh is committed to improving the lives of children by promising all children brilliant futures.

He is proud of the child-centered art at the nationally-acclaimed Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the kid-friendly rooms at the cutting-edge Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and student-first design at some Pittsburgh Public Schools. He says that he could cite hundreds of fantastic examples – from the Toonseum to the Consortium for Public Education to Govern for Kids – but the one image that conveys Kidsburgh beautifully is the statue of Fred Rogers seated by the Allegheny River keeping watch over Pittsburgh “…in his neighborhood after all. So, it seems to me that we have a special honor to uphold.”

Behr says that he is most curious about educational technologies for children. “We know that kids learn at any time and at any place – in school, at the library, in museums, on the playground, in their homes. They are surrounded by a world rich in information and experiences; and, significantly, that information and those experiences are often just a click away – on their computers, cameras, robots, mobile phones, and all sorts of gadgetry. So, how do we infuse their gadgets with content that propels their curiosity and creativity?”

Currently executive director of The Grable Foundation, he previously served as president of The Forbes Funds from 2002 to 2006, another Pittsburgh-based foundation that supports nonprofit capability-building, research and leadership development. Behr twice chaired the Pittsburgh Nonprofit Summit, launched the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership and coordinated an Emmy Award-winning public television series.

In recent years, and especially under the leadership of Behr, The Grable Foundation’s support has helped in important ways to advance the mission of the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College and to encourage innovation in the application of digital media. He has been instrumental in developing the vision for the national Fred Forward Conference and in positioning the Rogers Center for national leadership.

He is a former litigator with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a national law firm based in Pittsburgh. While there he received the Outstanding Young Lawyer Award presented by the Allegheny County Bar Association.

A 1995 graduate of the University of Notre Dame, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree Phi Beta Kappa, he also earned a law degree and a master of public policy degree from Duke University. He completed a Jane Addams Graduate Fellowship at Indiana University.

He has been honored with the American Marshall Memorial Fellowship in 2003 by The German Marshall Fund of the United States and in 2003 was selected as one of Pittsburgh’s 40 Under 40 by Pittsburgh Magazine. He was selected as Pittsburgh’s representative to the TransAtlantic Cities Network. In 2010, Phi Delta Kappa honored him with the Lay Leader Award in Education.

Additionally, he sits on advisory councils for the United Way of Allegheny County, Center for Creativity at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership as well as the Institute for Politics and the Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership at the University of Pittsburgh. Past leadership roles include chairmanship of Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania, the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh’s Clean Campaign Committee and WQED’s Community Advisory Board.

Active in government and community service, he has been a research assistant to the Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy, program consultant to the Indiana Commission on Community Service, program analyst for the U.S. Department of Education Office of Post-Secondary Education, founding director of The Content of Our Character Project, a nationally-acclaimed ethics initiative featured in The New York Times and the PBS documentary, The Power of Integrity. He has also served as a member of the advisory council for the Pew Partnership for Civic Change.

During the conferral of the honorary doctor of humane letters degree, Behr was recognized as a “go-to guy” by CNN, PBS and The New York Times who rose to prominence by inspiring his young generation to excellence and for dispelling the myth that his generation was apathetic, cynical and egotistical. “He has been a visionary leader in the nonprofit community of western Pennsylvania, advancing the region as a very family-centered community that offers great education and great opportunity for children,” Br. Norman read from the citation. “Since becoming executive director of The Grable Foundation in 2006, he has shown exceptional leadership in bringing together scores of nonprofits and educational institutions around the concept of Pittsburgh as a great center of educational innovation and distinctive opportunity for young people.”

He has single-handedly organized the nonprofit community of the Pittsburgh region around the concept of “Kidsburgh,” leading to a phenomenal level of collaboration and innovation in the development of programs for families and young people. “Kids + Creativity,” which has developed many inventive programs for area families and children has gained a national reputation. His style of leadership – inspiring, cajoling and organizing these scores of nonprofits to work together – has created a unique culture of good will and good humor that has resulted in powerful collaboration.

The commencement ceremony was preceded by a Baccalaureate Mass in the Mary, Mother of Wisdom Chapel and followed by a reception in the Robert S. Carey Student Center lounge. The Rt. Rev. Douglas R. Nowicki, O.S.B., archabbot and chancellor, presided. He and Br. Norman W. Hipps, O.S.B., president, awarded the honorary degree and the student degrees. Graduates were presented by Dr. John J. Smetanka, vice president for academic affairs and academic dean.

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Photo: Br. Norman W. Hipps, O.S.B., right, president of Saint Vincent College, confers an honorary doctor of humane letters degree on Gregg Behr at Saint Vincent College December Commencement ceremonies Dec. 15. 

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PR2012-584