Monday, August 25, 2008



Recently I came across a little book of wisdom called The World According to Mister Rogers, Important Things to Remember by Fred Rogers. It’s a cute little book, published in 2003 shortly after his death, containing some of Mister Rogers’ thoughts on living life. As I was reading the book, my mind kept returning to Clay Aiken and how he lives his life.

Clay frequently expressed admiration for the ideals of Mister Rogers, revealing “You know who I idolized? Mr. Rogers. Is there a market for the next Mr. Rogers? Because I'd love to do that. I'd much rather be quiet and important like him than live large and be some useless celebrity.”

Mister Rogers, of course, was a celebrity, best known for his TV show “Mister Rogers Neighborhood,” his sweaters, and his advocacy for children. Clay Aiken is also a celebrity, famous for a different kind of TV show and his advocacy for children and he has been known to wear a sweater from time to time. While they have these things in common, it’s even more remarkable to realize how closely aligned their philosophies of life are.

From the forward of The World According to Mister Rogers written by his wife:

He worked so hard at being other-oriented (not self-centered) that he’d often express himself by using the first person plural. He’d say, “We’re doing this or that.” It was almost always “we.” People might sometimes have wondered who else he was including. Perhaps he was simply making an effort to ensure that his colleagues and coworkers were equally recognized and valued for the work in which they all were so invested. That would’ve been Fred’s wish.

Saying “we” rather than “I” is a habit Clay Aiken has had since he appeared on American Idol in 2003. It’s his way of acknowledging the work of others in presenting a concert or releasing a CD.

Mister Rogers on success:

The thing I remember best about successful people I’ve met all through the years is their obvious delight in what they’re doing . . . and it seems to have very little to do with worldly success. They just love what they’re doing, and they love it in front of others.

Anyone who has ever seen Clay Aiken perform in concert knows how much he loves performing. He commands the stage, interacts with the audience, sometimes stopping the concert to talk to audience members. His delight in his “job” is obvious.

Mister Rogers on gifts and disappointments:

The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.
How great it is when we come to know that times of disappointment can be followed by times of fulfillment; that sorrow can be followed by joy; that guilt over falling short of our ideals can be replaced by pride in doing all that we can; and that anger can be channeled into creative achievements . . . and into dreams that we can make come true!
Often out of periods of losing come the greatest strivings toward a new winning streak.

In Clay Aiken’s inspirational memoir Learning to Sing, Hearing the Music in Your Life, he was very open and honest about his life, his disappointments, his challenges, and the lessons he learned from them. His graciousness in the face of his defeat on American Idol served him well in setting the tone for his successful career.

Mister Rogers on Disabilities:

Part of the problem with the word disabilities is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other tings that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and if in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.
In every neighborhood, all across our country, there are good people insisting on a good start for the young, and doing something about it.

Clay Aiken has worked with and for children with disabilities for more than a decade. He has personally worked with children and with organizations to include special needs children in summer camps and other learning opportunities. His degree is in Special Education and he began the Bubel/Aiken Foundation to benefit special needs children. It is his heart and his personal calling and he has proven that joy can come from providing opportunities for children. While he has spent much time and effort on this endeavor, others in the world have chosen to denigrate him. Who has the real disability?

Mister Rogers on children:

Please think of the children first. If you ever have anything to do with their entertainment, their food, their toys, their custody, their day or night care, their health care, their education – listen to the children, learn about them, learn from them. Think of the children first.

In 2004, Clay Aiken was appointed UNICEF Ambassador for the Education of Children Worldwide. In that capacity, he has visited children in Indonesia, Afghanistan, Somalia, Kenya, and Uganda to ensure that children have schools and opportunities for learning. This is a responsibility he cares about deeply and he has personally raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for this UNICEF endeavor.

Mister Rogers on families:

I believe it’s a fact of life that what we have is less important than what we make out of what we have. The same holds true for families: It’s not how many people there are in a family that counts, but rather the feelings among the people who are there.

This is a philosophy that Clay holds dear to his heart. He considers his touring company his “touring family.” His fellow cast mates on Spamalot are his “Broadway family.” He makes all those around him into his family. In his personal life, he now has his own little family. Though slightly unconventional, Jaymes Foster and their son, Parker, are his family.

Mister Rogers on Choices:

You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefuly your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.

Clay Aiken has always made his own choices based on what he feels is best for himself. I hope he continues to make choices for himself.

Although this book does not even contain 200 pages, it is filled with sensible advice. The most important message is:

If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.

Clay never had a chance to meet Fred Rogers but Mister Rogers' advice lives on in Clay Aiken.

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