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The Beautiful Day In Our Neighborhood

Mister Rodgers with trolley photo

Text by Fred Rogers
Photos provided by The Fred Rogers Company

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In 1995, before Millennials went to college and when Gen Xers were nearly done with college, Mr. Rogers came to West Virginia University’s neighborhood to deliver the commencement address. As the year comes to a close, and you may be celebrating his life with the new film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” starring Tom Hanks, take a few moments to think about your dreams with him.


Excerpt of Fred Rogers’ 1995 WVU commencement address:

   

“When I was a freshman in college, I met someone who knew a very famous songwriter, and ever since I was a little boy I had wanted to meet that songwriter. I was convinced that if I could just get him to hear my songs – I think I had five of them – then he would be so impressed with them that he would introduce me to Broadway, and I would be an instant successful composer of show tunes.


I was able to get an interview with that man and I remember so well going to New York and all the way thinking: ‘This is it. I’ll probably have to give up college and get an apartment in the city, and my parents will be so proud of me and before long my five songs will be sung by millions of Broadway show goers.’ That’s not what happened.


The famous composer was very welcoming to me. He asked me to play a couple of those original songs for him, and he listened intently as I played them and sang them as well as I could. When I was finished, he said ‘Very nice, Fred. Now, how many songs have you written?’ I told him ‘five,’ and I had brought them all with me. Then he said something that has become very important to me.


He said, ‘I’d like you to come back after you’ve written a barrelful. And we’ll talk again.’ Can you imagine how I felt? A barrelful of songs. That would be hundreds of songs, and at that moment I had only five. I can still remember the disappointment I felt as I rode all the way back to college. Nevertheless, that man’s counsel was more inspired than I realized.


It took me years to understand that. But of course what he knew was that if I really wanted to be a songwriter, I’d have to write songs and not just think about the five I’d already written. And so after the initial disappointment, I got to work. And through the years one by one, I have written a barrelful of songs.


You sang one very well just a little while ago [‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’]. In fact, now the barrelful’s overflowing, and I can tell you that those songs did not write themselves. I wrote them, and the more I wrote, the better the songs became. I wish to be a songwriter, and I attached my work to my wish. And that wish came true.


But what about the wishes that don’t come true?”


Watch the rest of Fred Rogers’ speech above to find the answer.


Have a beautiful day in your neighborhood.


Rogers’ speech © The Fred Rogers Company