Garrison Keillor, bringing news from Lake Wobegon, was the final keynote speaker of the conference and he opened by speaking about the differences between school now and when he was a child. However, one thing has remained constant in the great state of Minnesota. "School never was and never will be cancelled due to the bad weather."
Keillor spoke fondly about his first-grade teacher. He was a struggling reader so she used to ask him to stay after school and read aloud to her because he "had a nice voice." He tried to read with ease, inflection, and confidence -- and was soon looking forward to his after school sessions. "To take a child who is having a hard time reading and make remedial reading seem like doing a favor -- that is a gift." "Nothing you can do for a child is wasted, and if just one teacher gains traction..." School should offer "a sense of success and blessedness" for all students, even if he or she looks like "they have just fallen face first into a tackle box."
Then or now, "the principles of public education are the same." Keillor acknowledged that many schools are struggling but education is a moral imperative, "perhaps the greatest moral obligation we have, and the most important investment a community can make." "Children are our most precious resource. If we lose faith in our children, if we do not give to them at least as good as was given to us, there's no future for this country."
Keillor spoke to the importance of local control of schools, even though state and federal politicians want that local control instead. When it comes to any difficult painful decision "that should be made by people who can explain them to parents face-to-face."
Poet James Wright was one of Keillor's professors at the University of Minnesota. "He made you believe you could do great things -- you could aspire beyond what anyone thought possible." To close his comments, Keillor quoted from one of Wright's poems, A Blessing. "Suddenly I realize / That if I stepped out of my body / I would break into blossom." "Blossoming," Keillor summed up, "is the business we are in."