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Fred Rogers Company Executive Hedda Sharapan Tells Grads: 'Nobody's Perfect, Ask for Help, Trust Your Intuition'

Public Relations
Posted: Monday Dec 16, 2013

 Dec. 16, 2013

Hedda Sharapan, director of early childhood initiatives for The Fred Rogers Company, told Saint Vincent College’s December graduates on Saturday that nobody’s perfect and to always remember to ask for help as they journey through life.

One hundred and twenty-one students – 59 undergraduates and 62 graduates – who completed requirements in August or December received their degrees at the ninth annual December commencement ceremony of Saint Vincent College in the gymnasium of the Robert S. Carey Student Center.

Sharapan, who was also honored with the conferral of an honorary doctor of humane letters degree, told the graduates that “Fred Rogers had a song: You’ve got to do it. You can wish for things but it takes real work to make those dreams come true. You did it, congratulations,” she said.

“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood wasn’t just for children,” she continued. “It’s full of life lessons for all of us.” She showed a video that demonstrated that even Rogers wasn’t perfect. “It’s a great reminder that nobody’s perfect. There are no perfect parents, there are no perfect children. We have to be able to forgive others – and ourselves.”

“The other message is how hard it is to learn something new,” she related. “It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. That’s a sign of real strength. Maybe these messages of Fred’s will stay with you as you move on from Saint Vincent, from this caring neighborhood and build your own caring neighborhood of colleagues, family and friends.”

“Trust your intuition,” she concluded. “When you feel the tent is too tough to put up alone, get some help. I wish you many beautiful days in your neighborhood as you journey from here.”

The commencement ceremony was preceded by a Baccalaureate Mass at 9:30 a.m. in the Mary, Mother of Wisdom Student 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.

As a co-worker and close collaborator with Fred Rogers, Sharapan embodies Rogers’ philosophy of putting children first and focusing on both their emotional and intellectual development. Her work with Rogers has touched millions of children, parents and educators. Her continued work with The Fred Rogers Company reaches early childhood educators to share what we all can learn from Rogers.

She has spoken at hundreds of early childhood conferences. Example titles of recent presentations at conferences include “STEM/STEAM – What we can continue to learn from Fred Rogers”, “ Helping Children Deal with Their Angry Feelings” and “Helping Children WANT to Become Readers and Writers.”

In describing how Rogers taught, she says “rather than focus on academics, Fred was more interested in helping children develop the tools they’ll need for success in school and in life: persistence, curiosity, getting along with others, self-control and self-regulation.”

Sharapan continues and extends the work Rogers started 47 years ago. This includes work she has done in collaboration with Dr. Veronica Ent and other members of the Saint Vincent Department of Education in developing modules for inclusion in courses for early childhood educators that incorporate the Rogers lesson plan.

Sharapan is recognized as a legend in the early learning field and was awarded the lifetime achievement award by the National Family Child Care Conference. In her work, Sharapan, like Rogers, enlivens the virtues and values that are held by an institution: the importance of each individual, a commitment to excellent work and an approach to life and learning that is compassionate, balanced and holistic.

The granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor and the daughter of European immigrants who grew up in McKeesport, Pa. Sharapan began work at The Fred Rogers Company in 1966. She worked closely with Rogers on a number of books for children and parents. She also authored a variety of professional development materials for early childhood educators. She served as assistant director, assistant producer, associate producer and handled the puppet Mrs. Frogg on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Today, Sharapan consults on new PBS series, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Working to extend Rogers’ legacy, she is a frequent presenter at national and international conferences on early childhood education. As the director of early childhood initiatives at The Fred Rogers Company, she is responsible for communicating Rogers’ philosophy in multiple ways: developing workshops for early childhood educators; working on books, articles and brochures for parents, families and professionals; and speaking around the country to educators, parents, religious, business and community groups. She is the mother of two daughters and two granddaughters.

She earned a master of science degree in child development from the University of Pittsburgh and a bachelor of science degree in psychology from Carnegie Mellon University.

She received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 from the National Family Child Care Conference in recognition of years of dedicated service to family child care.

The author of numerous professional development activities, newsletters and blog entries, her professional development e-newsletter is sent monthly to nearly 15,000 subscribers.

The following is the text of the honorary degree citation which was read to Sharapan:

You began your career early – at age 11 with your own TV show, “The Happy Hedda Show,” even if it was just in front of your mirror – it was the beginning. After college, on advice from Fred Rogers you did graduate studies in child development at the University of Pittsburgh. During this time Fred invited you to be his assistant director; initially with no pay, you worked on the program behind the scenes. A few years later, for a brief while, you became the voice of Mrs. Frogg on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Over the years collaborating with Fred Rogers and later in your own right, with a new voice you have made an important difference by supporting and communicating with adults on how to nurture children’s intellectual, social and emotional development. In the early years of the Fred Rogers Center you brought your unique gifts to Saint Vincent College to work with our faculty in developing a course in the education department integrating qualities that were at the heart of Fred Rogers’ work: self-control, getting along with others, curiosity, attentive listening and perseverance.

In your writings you share with professionals and parents alike the wonder and joy of guiding children through the challenges and opportunities of early learning, of exploring the world and of becoming a unique individual. Your presentations and workshops for child-centered groups and organizations across the United States inspire all who seek to make the world a better place for children.

You have a trusted voice that comes from the heart and draws from your grounding in child development to challenge us all to “Do what is best for the children.”

For all this, Saint Vincent College proudly confers upon you: Hedda Bluestone Sharapan, the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, at Saint Vincent College, this Fourteenth Day of December, Two Thousand Thirteen.

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Photo: Archabbot Douglas R. Nowicki, O.S.B., left, and Br. Norman W. Hipps, O.S.B., right, place the doctoral hood on Hedda Sharapan.

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