On September 14th, 1997 Mr. Rogers was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmys.
Here are his elegant remarks when he accepted his trinket:
“Thank you. Thank you. Oh it’s a beautiful night in this neighborhood. So many people have helped me to come to this night. Some of you are here, some are far away, some are even in Heaven.
All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are. Those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life. Ten seconds of silence. I’ll watch the time.
[10 Sec Pause]
Whomever you’ve been thinking about, how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they’ve made. You know they’re the kind of people television does well to offer our world. Special thanks to my family and friends, and to my co-workers in Public Broadcasting, Family Communications, and this Academy for encouraging me, allowing me, all these years to be your neighbor. May God be with you. Thank you very much.”
The words alone carry weight but it was the context that made them immortal.
Fred Rogers sought the medium of television in order to inculcate children with a message of care, love, understanding, and acceptance. Now, he was being recognized once again by the same institution that celebrated and validated the kinds of programming he had hoped to prevent.
He stood in front of an audience of people who made a career out of pretending to be someone else. They did this so well that long ago they forgot just who they were.
He offered ten seconds in which he asked them all to do the unthinkable.
Here is Esquire Magazine’s Tom Junod with his very real interpretation of the what transpired during those ten seconds of silence on national television.
“Mister Rogers went onstage to accept the award—and there, in front of all the soap opera stars and talk show sinceratrons, in front of all the jutting man-tanned jaws,… he made his small bow and said into the microphone, “All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are. Ten seconds of silence.”
And then he lifted his wrist, looked at the audience, looked at his watch, and said, “I’ll watch the time.” There was, at first, a small whoop from the crowd, a giddy, strangled hiccup of laughter, as people realized that he wasn’t kidding, that Mister Rogers was not some convenient eunuch, but rather a man, an authority figure who actually expected them to do what he asked. And so they did. One second, two seconds, three seconds—and now the jaws clenched, …, and the mascara ran, and the tears fell upon the beglittered gathering like rain leaking down a crystal chandelier. And Mister Rogers finally looked up from his watch and said softly “May God be with you,” to all his vanquished children.”
If you don’t bother to find out who you are, you will come to lament what you’ve become.
In case you forgot about Mr. Rogers or if you simply don’t know, here is the full article from Esquire by Tom Junod about him.