Here I am speaking at the dedication of the David Harrison Elementary School. You can read my speech below. Afterwards, the whole student body delivered a rousing school chant, which ends with “Harrison Huskies! Arf! Arf!” In the picture with me is Norm Ritter, Superintendent of Springfield Public Schools. With 25,000 students, our school district is the largest in Missouri.
Dear future students of David Harrison Elementary School,
If you are reading this years and years from now – Welcome! I wish you could be here with us today but of course you can’t. You live in our future and we live in your past.
Since you cannot be with us today, let me describe for you this rare occasion. It is Wednesday afternoon on August 26, 2009. The sky is blue. The temperature is 87. It is shortly after two o’clock and we are standing in front of the school for the ribbon cutting ceremony at David Harrison Elementary School. Our school colors have recently been chosen: navy and silver. Our mascot will be that brave, handsome dog, the Husky.
Try to imagine this day when your school is brand new. You don’t build a school every day! This one cost ten million dollars. The building has nearly 59,000 square feet and rests on seventy-two acres. You’re going to love the library! It’s one of the biggest in town. The bright colors in the bricks and tiles and floors and walls are fresh. Not a scratch. Not a chip or a blemish. Before this week no Harrison student has ever walked down the hallways. No one has eaten in the cafeteria. No one has sung in the music room, read in the library, walked across the stage or watched the toilets flush. Not a drawing or a paper, not a poster or a picture has graced a single wall.
This is the day when we start making history. What we say and do are being said and done for the first time.
But where are my manners! I should tell you who is here. The students of course! They look magnificent, many of them wearing their navy T-shirts with DAVID HARRISON ELEMENTARY, Home of the Huskies spelled out in silver letters. Guess what? I’m wearing one too.
We have one class of junior kindergarten students, two classes of early childhood development students, two classes of kindergarten students, two classes of first graders, two of second graders, two of third graders, and one fourth grade class. Altogether about 300 students have enrolled for this first school year of 2009-2010. I don’t know how much they weigh altogether. They look pretty healthy to me. If they average 65 pounds and there are 300 of them, that comes to roughly 10 tons of kids. We’re learning math already!
They are good looking girls and boys. You students in our future will have to go some to be any better looking than this first student body of Harrison Elementary! Our teachers say these kids are smart too. So we have 10 tons of good looking, smart kids to get this school started on the right foot. You have every reason to be proud of your heritage.
Speaking of pride, there are parents here today, too, quite a few of them, and I would describe them as proud. Well, some are thin, some are short – you know how that goes — but as a group the first thing you notice is that they are all proud. They know they had a lot to do with creating 10 tons of good looking, smart students. Want to know something? I am one hundred percent sure that your parents are proud of you too. So we have one great tradition already. Make that two. Harrison students are proud of their school and Harrison parents are proud of their kids.
Let’s see, who else is here today? The teachers and staff! I would like to tell you their names and introduce them properly, but there are 46 of them. I am sorry that you can’t see them but we can and I’m going to ask them all to hold up their hands so we can applaud them. At Harrison Elementary we have great respect for our teachers and staff. We entrust them with our students and they are going to do a wonderful job.
Guess who our principal is? Mrs. Christine Mendel! She is going to be the perfect first principal at David Harrison Elementary School. You’re going to find grand traditions here and many of them will be started by Mrs. Mendel, her teachers and staff and, naturally, today’s students!
Lots of other people are here. I see Dr. Norm Ridder, the superintendent of our school district. He’s proud of these Harrison Huskies too. With 24,000 students, Springfield Public Schools is the largest accredited school district in Missouri. All of our other students are good looking and smart, too, but we know where the best looking, smartest kids go to school. I bet Dr. Ridder agrees — but naturally he can’t say that out loud because, well, a superintendent has to be careful about such things.
Dr. Ben Hackenwerth is here. He’s in charge of all thirty-eight elementary schools in town! Members of our school board are here and so are a lot of other important people who help manage our big district. I have important people here too. I’ll introduce some of them in a minute.
In case you are wondering who I am, I’m the lucky guy your school is named after. Think I’m not proud? I’m standing here in front of all these students, parents, teachers, staff, principal, superintendent, family, friends, and other special guests, and I’m the one giving this talk. You may be reading this a long time from now, but it is happening this minute on August 26, 2009!
Why me? Good question. There were many names suggested for your school; about forty I think. Most came from parents and families of two schools near here: Wanda Gray Elementary and McBride Elementary. They got to do it because some students from those schools were coming to Harrison this fall. The list of forty candidates was narrowed down to three: Kildee Park Elementary, Dogwood Elementary, and David Harrison Elementary.
The killdeer is a bird found around this property. The dogwood is our state tree. I write books for children. The school board chose me. I’m glad they did. For one thing, killdeer are deplorable spellers. And the average dogwood cannot write a decent sentence. Imagine a bird or tree recording this occasion for you to read. The killdeer would get all chirpy and the dogwood would leaf out the good stuff.
Now I want to introduce some of my guests. They are my wife Sandy Harrison, mother Neva Harrison, son Jeff Harrison, daughter-in-law Jennifer Harrison, daughter Robin Williams, son-in-law Tim Williams, grandsons Kris and Tyler Williams, sister Jule Egleston, nephew Jon Egleston, niece-in-law Sarah Egleston, and grand niece Alexis Egleston.
Special guests of honor are Kent Brown and his wife Jody from Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Mr. Brown’s grandparents founded Highlights Magazine, the most popular children’s magazine in America. He is also the publisher of 26 of my books for children.
When you go to school here, you will make a lot of friends. Some of those friendships will last your whole lives. Today I am surrounded by dear friends, too many to call by name in this brief time, but I am grateful to each of them for being here to help get David Harrison Elementary School off to the best start possible.
I love seeing my name on this beautiful building but I want you to think of me as a person. This is my hometown. I was born here on March 13, 1937. I attended Oak Grove Elementary School, Jarrett Middle School, and Central High School.
When I attended Oak Grove, my parents and I lived in a three-room house at the corner of Oak Grove Lane and Catalpa. At first we had no electricity and the bathroom was a privy out back. It isn’t there now but then I could roam pastures, walk among cows and horses, and ride my bike down gravel roads. I collected insects, fossils, arrowheads, skulls, and snake skins. In fourth grade I began playing the trombone. I played it all the way through high school and became first chair in the Springfield Civic Symphony.
While attending Jarrett I lived at 603 E. Meadowmere on the corner of Meadowmere and Kimbrough. I played the bugle in my Boy Scout troop and hit a homerun in a softball game at school.
During my Central years I lived at 1137 E. Elm Street. I lettered in music and baseball (as a pitcher) and met my future wife in Spanish class. That was the luckiest class I ever took! A few years later, Sandy and I were married in Grace Methodist Church.
I graduated from Drury University in Springfield and Emory University in Atlanta with degrees in science.
After college I became a pharmacologist at Mead Johnson in Evansville, Indiana. That’s someone who does research looking for new kinds of medicine.
Later I joined Hallmark Cards in Kansas City. Eventually I became editorial manager and approved the verses published in all those cards.
My third career was as a businessman in Springfield. In 1945 my father and two partners started a manufacturing firm called Glenstone Block Company. I took over in 1973 and managed it until I retired in 2008.
What do I look like now? I’m six feet four inches tall and weigh 207 pounds. My hair is thin on top and nearly all gray. I have a little belly that I’m not proud of and I mean to do something about it.
I’ve been writing books for young people for forty years but I made up my first poem a long time before that when I was six. Want to hear it?
Sometimes I wish
I had a little fish
Upon a little dish.
Pretty good huh? My first book was published in 1969 and my 78th came out this month. I used to write late at night but now I work each weekday from 6:00 A.M. until sometime in the afternoon.
A lot of my poems are still short. Here’s one called “A Tick’s Friends.”
A tick has
Our principal, Mrs. Mendel, invited me to fill two display cases with copies of my books. I feel good about that! It means that you, whoever you are and whenever you come here, will see what I’ve spent much of my life doing. I may not be able to meet you but it gives me a warm feeling to think that you will meet me.
I think it is important for students to write. A few years ago I published a book called What I’ve Learned So Far. It was written by Springfield students from pre-kindergarten through high school. I loved that book. Some of the things students wrote were funny. Some made you think. One kid wrote, “What I’ve learned so far is that cats only have six lives.” You have to wonder how he knew that.
I would like it if each year the boys and girls at Harrison Elementary would write in their own What I’ve Learned So Far book a few words about what they have learned. In twenty-five years, there could be twenty-five such books in the library. That way you will know that students at Harrison take writing seriously and invite you to join in the fun.
I’ve come to the end of my speech. It has taken about fifteen minutes to give but I’ll remember being here for as long as I live. To everyone here today, thank you for honoring me in this remarkable way. To all of you in our future, welcome to David Harrison Elementary School, Home of the Harrison Huskies. You’re going to love it here. I promise.
Stop back. I will be posting more photos from the day. David