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April 11, 2001

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

Middlebury to Award Honorary Degrees to Rogers and Six Others

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. The College will award honorary degrees to six other distinguished individuals as well.

"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 half-hour 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 in New York City as a production assistant at NBC following his graduation from Rollins 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 George Foster Peabody Awards, Emmys, Lifetime Achievement Awards from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the Television 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 François 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.

The College also will present honorary degrees to six other distinguished individuals, including Johnnetta B. Cole, who will receive a Doctor of Letters degree. From 1987-1997, she served as the seventh president of Spelman College, where she was the first African-American woman to hold this post since the institution’s founding in 1881. In 1998 Cole joined the faculty of Emory University, where she is the Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Women’s Studies and African-American Studies. She is also the author of "Conversations: Straight Talk with America’s Sister President" and "Dream the Boldest Dreams: And Other Lessons of Life." Cole is an active participant in numerous community, civic and corporate boards and organizations, including The Carter Center and the National Council of Negro Women.

Lance R. Odden, headmaster of The Taft School in Watertown, Conn., will receive a Doctor of Letters degree. Odden began his career at Taft in 1961 after graduating from Princeton University the same year. In 1967 he became chair of the school’s history department, and in 1970 he began serving as assistant headmaster. Two years later he assumed his current position, from which he will retire this June after 29 years. A leader in independent education in New England, Odden is the former president of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the Headmasters Association, and the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools.

The College will award Doctor of Humane Letters degrees to Patricia J. Palmer and her husband and fellow member of the Middlebury class of 1957 Charles C. Palmer. After working as a music therapist and a music teacher, Patricia Palmer began a career as a volunteer for numerous civic committees and organizations, including many associated with her town of Wellesley Hills, Mass. As a charter member of the Middlebury College board of trustees, she served as vice chair and secretary of the board. Palmer, who is now a trustee emerita, is also the national co-chair of the College’s $200 million Bicentennial capital campaign. The many other organizations which she has served include the League of Women Voters of Wellesley, the Wellesley Board of Selectmen and the Newton Wellesley Hospital.

Charles Palmer, an economics major in college, worked at Advest, a financial services company, from 1960-1992. Since then he has been employed by the firm Legg Mason as senior vice president of investments. He has served his alma mater as a volunteer in many areas, including career counseling, admissions and fundraising. He is the recipient of two Middlebury College awards, the Alumni Plaque Award and the Fred Neuberger Alumni Admissions Award.

David L. Warren will receive a Doctor of Letters degree. Since 1993, Warren has been president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), an organization representing 1,000 colleges, universities and associations on public policy issues before the legislative, executive and regulatory branches of the federal government. Prior to holding this position, he served as the president of Ohio Wesleyan University from 1984-1993. Warren is the author of numerous articles on volunteerism, town-gown conflict, crisis management and theology. His daughter Katrin E. Warren is a member of the Middlebury class of 2001.

The College will present Ekwow Spio-Garbrah with a Doctor of Laws degree. He is chairman and chief executive officer of S, G & A, a public relations and financial consulting firm based in Ghana. Spio-Garbrah has served his native Ghana as a public servant in many positions, including minister of education from 1998-2001, minister of communications from 1997-1998, and ambassador to the United States and Mexico from 1994-1997. He is the father of Koby Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, a senior at Middlebury College, and the uncle of Ben Gyepi-Garbrah of the Middlebury class of 1993.

The outdoor graduation ceremonies will take place on the lawn behind Forest Hall on College Street (Route 125) at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 27. More than 4,000 family and friends are expected to attend. In the case of inclement weather, commencement will be held in Kenyon Arena on Route 30.