It’s commencement season, that annual time of celebration of new beginnings marked by pomp and circumstance, including speeches and words of purported wisdom from a wide variety of people.

Just today, President Joe Biden spoke to the graduating class at the Air Force Academy here in Colorado Springs across the highway from the ministry. Actor Tom Hanks addressed Harvard’s graduates last week. We previously featured in the Daily Citizen highlights from Bishop Barron’s excellent message at Hillsdale College last month.

Earlier this morning, I was reminded of another message that has aged very well. It comes from Dartmouth College and dates back to May of 2002 when iconic television teacher Fred Rogers spoke at his alma mater.

Fred began by reflecting how much the cost of Dartmouth had changed since he first arrived on campus as a student:

“When I was at Dartmouth in the late 1940s, the tuition, room, and board all added up to $1,100 a year,” he told the class. “Nobody owned a home computer, and hardly anyone had a television set. And those who did, there was a choice of three channels.”

Indeed, a lot had changed in those ensuing years between Mister Rogers’ graduation in 1950 and his return in 2002, and far more than money. Yet few people would have anticipated that Rogers would be dead less than nine months later, succumbing to stomach cancer at the age of 74.

But if a lot had changed back then, perhaps even more has changed between 2002 and 2023.  When Fred Rogers addressed those gathered in Hanover, New Hampshire that day, there was no such thing as a smart phone, nor Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. But culture was still swirling, and the wisdom of Fred Rogers – informed and fed by his Presbyterian ministerial roots, was nevertheless on display.

That’s because Fred Rogers’ genius was often that he addressed and championed principles as opposed to fads and other finicky swings of daily life.

When discussing the three ways to success, the public television communicator replied:

“The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.”

Regarding the dignity and distinctiveness of every life, he once said:

“As human beings, 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 that no one else has – or ever will have – something inside that 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.”

But on this special day at Dartmouth, Fred told a collection of stories, ending with this one:

I have a lot of framed things in my office, which people have given to me through the years. And on my walls are Greek, and Hebrew, and Russian, and Chinese. And beside my chair, is a French sentence from Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince. It reads, “L’essential est invisible pour les yeux”- What is essential is invisible to the eye.

Today’s culture is drawn to the spectacle, to the razzle, dazzle and the characters who make the most noise.

But today’s heroes aren’t likely those in the headlines. They’re the faithful husbands and wives, the moms and dads who wake up early, make the coffee and breakfast, kiss and hug on their children, speak affirming and loving words, do the laundry, go to work, pay the bills, mow the lawn, talk about Jesus to the kids – all the while laughing, crying and doing their very best to serve and honor their families.

And then they go to bed and get up and do it all over again.

It’s essential stuff – but chances are the kids don’t see it. Many of the actions we do as adults are invisible to them – until they grow older, and sometimes they’re not even aware until they have their own children.

Mister Rogers concluded by noting:

You don’t ever have to do anything sensational for people to love you. When I say “It’s you I like,” I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see, or hear, or touch. That deep part of you, that allows you to stand for those things, without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate. Peace that rises triumphant over war. And justice that proves more powerful than greed.

So, in all that you do in all of your life, I wish you the strength and the grace to make those choices which will allow you and your neighbor to become the best of whoever you are. Congratulations to you all.

I miss Mister Rogers, don’t you?