February 8, 2001

Children's television show host "Mister Rogers" to speak at Middlebury College's commencement May 27

MIDDLEBURY, Vt.--Fred Rogers, creator and host of the PBS children's television show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" the longest running show on public television?will deliver the commencement address at Middlebury College's graduation ceremony on Sunday, May 27. He will receive an honorary Doctor of Letters degree.

"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," which debuted nationally in 1968, is carried by more than 300 PBS stations and reaches more than four million viewers each week. There have been almost 900 episodes of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." Rogers ended production of his show this year in January.

According to Middlebury College President John M. McCardell, Jr., Rogers is one of the most influential figures in the history of children's television. McCardell said, "Fred Rogers has never wavered from his belief that showing love and compassion to our children is the single most important element in their lives. We are honored to recognize his positive influence on generations of youngsters."

An ordained Presbyterian minister, Rogers began his television career as a production assistant at NBC following his graduation from college in 1951. In 1953, he moved back to his native Pittsburgh at the request of WQED, the nation's first community-supported public television station. Rogers developed the station's first programs, including, "The Children's Corner," a forerunner to "Mister Rogers."

In 1966, "Mister Rogers" aired on WQED in its current half-hour length. Two years later, PBS made the show available for national distribution.

Rogers has received every major award in television for which he is eligible, including two George Foster Peabody Awards, Emmys, "Lifetime Achievement" Awards from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the TV Critics Association, and many others from special-interest groups in education, communications, and early childhood. In 1999, he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.

Rogers is chairman of Family Communications, the nonprofit company that he formed in 1971 to produce "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and that has since diversified into non-broadcast materials that reflect the same philosophy and purpose as the show: to encourage the healthy emotional growth of children and their families.

Rogers has a special connection to Middlebury College. Conductor of the College choir and Twilight Artist-in-Residence Fran├žois Clemmons performed the role of the friendly police officer, Officer Clemmons, on "Mr.Rogers' Neighborhood" for 25 years. Clemmons, who created the role, often sang on the show, drawing on his experience as an opera singer and the founder of the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble.

According to Clemmons, Rogers is a unique human being who taught him a great deal about life, loyalty, and friendship. "I wouldn't be the artist I am today if I hadn't experienced his message of love and understanding. I'm sure that I can say for myself and the many students who watched him all during their youth that we are excited and honored that he has decided to share our commencement celebration. It's one I know we'll remember for years to come," said Clemmons.

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