GREENVILLE, Pa.—Thiel College, a leading liberal arts college in northwest Pennsylvania, is directly connected to today’s historic first-day-of-issue dedication ceremony for a stamp commemorating television’s most beloved children’s show host Fred Rogers H’69.
Pittsburgh public television station WQED hosted today’s dedication of the stamp in the Fred Rogers Studio. WQED Multimedia Senior Executive Producer Jim Cunningham ’77—a 1977 graduate of Thiel College—spoke as part of Friday’s proceedings. Cunningham has worked at WQED since 1978. He interned on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” then worked on the show and later interviewed Rogers for the station.
Thiel College was the first of 40 institutions to award Rogers an honorary degree. Thiel recognized Rogers at Honors Convocation in November 1969, about a year-and-half into his show’s 32-year run.
“It is a point of great pride that Thiel College was the first institution to recognize Fred Rogers as a visionary educator,” Thiel College President Susan Traverso, Ph.D., said. “I am sure it would be no surprise to the folks who championed his selection 48 years ago that Mr. Rogers remains an icon and a consistent reminder of the benefits of a message of love, tolerance and understanding. It is equally gratifying that our College connects our students to a scholarship that bears Fred Rogers’ name. Every year, Fred Rogers’ impact on the world grows exponentially as the students receiving his scholarship stretch their horizons.”
Along with today’s dedication of a commemorative stamp by the U.S. Postal Service, Fred Rogers has returned to the forefront of the national dialogue with the 50th anniversary his television show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and the celebration what would have been his 90th birthday this week. A documentary about Rogers releases this summer and two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks will star in an upcoming Rogers biopic.
Trustee emeritus James McHugh ’62, H’02 is a graduate of Thiel College and a Latrobe native.
“Mr. Rogers’ legacy is being celebrated and recognized worldwide today. I have had the good fortune to meet Mr. Rogers. Thiel College, having recognized the genius and contribution of Mr. Rogers early in his career, awarded him his first honorary degree in 1969,” McHugh said. “I read his speech; like so many things he said and did, his words are an ageless lesson for all of us.”
Rogers’ address at Thiel was titled “Encouraging Creativity.” According to the Fred Rogers Archive, the presentation was so popular that to meet the requests for it, they had copies printed in advance for immediate distribution. In his address, he admonished educators and society in general for forcing conformity on children and encouraged understanding and tolerance as children endeavored to find their gifts.
“It’s as if we the educators were saying to the developing person, ‘From now on young people, the way we tell you to do something is the way you must do it or you won’t pass.’ And by the time those children hear 11 or 12 years of that, is it any wonder that they have trouble knowing who they are?” he told the audience. “One of the major goals of education must be to help students discover a greater awareness of their own unique selves.”
“Only by being aware of our own endowments, can we begin to marvel at the variety which our creator has provided in men,” Rogers said. “Our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is. That each of us has something which no one else has, or ever will have, something inside which is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”
Fred Rogers’ connection with Thiel continues today. The McFeely Rogers Foundation supports Thiel College student success with the Mister Rogers Scholarship. Two students, Hillary Leipold ’18, of Greensburg, Pa., and Tyler Mull ’18, of Westmoreland City, Pa., are the current recipients. The McFeely Rogers Foundation also provided financial support for the recently constructed James Pedas Communication Center. In the Pedas Center, a collaborative workspace for students is also named for Rogers.
“Growing up in his hometown of Latrobe, I always knew who Mr. Rogers was, but I didn't know the impact he would have on my life,” Leipold said. “Not only was he the hometown hero, he was also one of my personal heroes because of his passion for children, a passion he and I share. Because of this, I was so honored to receive the Mister Rogers Scholarship.”
Near the collaborative space named for Rogers, an original trolley car from the set of his show is on display. College officials expect to supplement that artifact with additional Rogers memorabilia this spring. Those items—along with the trolley car—will be displayed prominently on campus.
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