What Would Fred Rogers Do?
“What would Mister Rogers do?” I asked myself, over and over again, as I stared ineptly at a classroom full of unruly eighth graders barely paying attention to anything I was teaching. It was 2003, and the fact I had just received my doctorate in child psychology merely accentuated the irony. It was also the year Fred Rogers passed away.
Having grown up in China, I learned about Mister Rogers not as a child, but as a Pittsburgher who witnessed the outpouring of neighborly love and affection for Fred during his memorial service. After that, I sought and read everything I could find about him. I watched “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” as an adult. Something about Fred and his work touched me profoundly, as he had done for millions of children and grown-ups, no matter how or when they got to know him. Many of them, like me, may still find themselves wondering what Fred might do if he were in our place facing our challenges.
Shortly after I began my work at the Fred Rogers Center, I told Mrs. Joanne Rogers I often asked myself the “What would Fred Rogers do” question. She said to me with all her kindness and directness, “The real question is – now that you have learned what Fred said and what Fred had done – what are you going to do with it?”
In late fall of 2002, Fred gave what turned out to be his final public speech in Houston to a small gathering of child advocates and philanthropists. “Every one of us—no matter how much money we have—needs to know that there’s something about us worth giving,” he began simply and deeply.
He went on to share some of his favorite video segments of “helpers”, featuring Green Chimneys—a farm that connects traumatized animals with traumatized children—and his good friend Jeff Erlanger, who came onto his TV neighborhood in a wheelchair as a young child and many years later inducted Fred into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame.
In closing, his invitation is simultaneously affirming and demanding: “You can translate some of the care you have inside of yourselves to action on the outside . . . and that’s what really matters.”
Every one of us—no matter how much money we have—needs to know that there’s something about us worth giving.
What each of us does with whatever we learned from Fred is the only honest answer to “What would Fred Rogers do?” Even as we look to Fred’s legacy for guidance and support, the simple gift Fred gave us, paradoxically, is the conviction that each of us has something worth giving to our own neighbors and communities.
On this occasion to commemorate Fred Rogers’ birthday, all of us at the Fred Rogers Center are so pleased to share with our fellow Fred devotees the text of Fred’s final public speech, titled “Something Worth Giving.” We thank our colleagues at Grantmakers for Children, Youth & Families for sharing this beautiful digital edition, and we thank our partners at the Fred Rogers Company for the privilege to once again broadcast Fred’s last and lasting message.
“‘Fame’ is a four-letter word,” Fred said when he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1999, “and like ‘tape’ or ‘zoom’ or ‘face’ or ‘pain’ or ‘life’ or ‘love,’ what ultimately matters is what we do with it.”
To that list of four-letter words, we add our favorite: “Fred.”