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Column: Mr. Rogers provides graduation inspiration

WORTHINGTON -- Good evening and welcome District 518 school board members, faculty, parents, friends and members of the Class of 2008. As we gather here this evening, I cannot help but reflect on the influential words of Mr. Fred Rogers. He once said, "I recently learned that in an average lifetime, a person walks about 65,000 miles. That is two and one-half times around the world. I wonder where your steps will take you. I wonder how you will use the rest of the miles you are given." As children, many of us gathered to watch this magnificent man as he taught us to be competent, caring and compassionate citizens for the future. Whether it was the land of make believe or encouraging music, Mr. Rogers always had a lesson to be learned by his viewers. Yet, he never let the dream of make believe hinder our views of reality.

Mr. Rogers was aware of hardships; and we, too, must be willing to face the obstacles before us. Every great accomplishment usually comes from previous mistakes, for they are a fact of life. Walt Disney was fired by the editor of a newspaper because he lacked imagination and had no good ideas. Colonel Sanders was rejected by 1,000 restaurants before someone would invest in his chicken recipe. Abraham Lincoln lost two congressional races, two senatorial races and the race of the vice-presidency before he became the 16th president of the United States. Thomas Edison tried 382 ways of making a light bulb. Afterwards someone asked him if he was discouraged. He answered he wasn't; for now he knew 382 ways not to try.

As we continue on our pathway of life, we see that those who are successful make mistakes but continually learn from them. Over the past 12 years, we have tried to choose our steps wisely, as we have already made great strides in our lives. None of this would have been possible without the encouragement of those around us. Mr. Rogers is also known for saying, "The most important people in a child's life are that child's parents and teachers. That means parents and teachers are the most important people in the world." I think we are all well aware that we may not be as competent and successful as we are today if it wasn't for our parents and influential individuals.

Because of them, we gather together as the Class of 2008 and are presented with two paths. We can walk the worn path of those who have ventured successfully before us or we can take a chance, face our challenges and form a path of our own. No matter what direction we choose, we will find ourselves going to college, entering the work force or serving in the military. On our journey, we will take with us the memories, the friends and the pride which has been instilled in us. The future holds many opportunities for each of us. We all have the ability to take risks, overcome obstacles and leave our mark on the world.

Just as Mr. Rogers hung up his sweater, we, too, must hang up our caps and gowns as we say good bye to our adolescence. Make believe and puppet shows are now a time of the past; but we should always remember no matter how difficult the task or stressful the situation, anything can be conquered with the helping hand of our neighbors.

Jessica Weitgenant is a 2008 graduate of Worthington High School. She delivered this speech at the May 30 commencement ceremony.