Michael Pritchard is a big man with a big message for young people and the adults who seek to steer them through school and through life.
"Joy comes from that connection to others," he said. "The best thing we can do for a child is to help them learn to love."
In Maryville Tuesday to speak at a Northwest Technical School luncheon for educators and civic leaders, Pritchard is a noted consultant, keynote speaker, and television personality who believes future potential is a lot more important than past behavior —
and that every child is special.
His appearance here was sponsored by a Growing Opportunities grant awarded to NTS that will fund a number of enhanced educational opportunities for youngsters in the Maryville R-II School District throughout the academic year.
Growing up in Dellwood on the northern edge of metropolitan St. Louis, Pritchard played football at Southeast Missouri State before moving to San Francisco, Calif., where he flirted with major fame three decades ago as a comedian funny enough to play big-time comedy clubs and make several appearances on network television.
A juvenile counselor by profession, he won the San Francisco International Stand-up Comedy Competition in 1980, the same year he was named California's Probation Officer of the Year.
With that kind of background, it is perhaps not surprising that Pritchard has largely forsaken show business celebrity for what he bluntly describes as "social work," which involves making countless appearances at schools nationwide in what amounts to a one-man crusade against bullying, drugs, depression, violence and anything else that robs youngsters of their right to happiness.
In fact, he may be best known these days for what Youtube fans have named "The Bully Speech" from the 2011 documentary film "Happy," which explores the wellsprings of human happiness through interviews that relate to various theories associated with the positive psychology movement.
Pritchard has explored similar themes in a string of educational television series produced by PBS and targeted at young audiences.
Though spends a lot of time working with children and teenagers, Pritchard, often speaks to adults as well, appearing before groups of counselors, teachers, politicians, corporate leaders, health-care workers and veterans to promote improved communication, anger management skills, diversity, and conflict resolution while combatting such workplace pitfalls as burnout and stress.
During Tuesday's Maryville session, his theme revolved around the specialness of all young people, particularly those who face such challenges as autism, dyslexia and cognitive disabilities.
At any number of levels, Pritchard said, the United States is failing young people who "lead the world in eating disorders, cutting, binge drinking and suicide attempts, but who have gotten really good at taking tests."
Teachers, parents and community leaders have a responsibility, Pritchard said, to reach out to students who are "learning different" and subject to the kind of teasing and bullying that leads to "scar tissue on their hearts."
Page 2 of 2 - He added that the most effective weapon against such scarring is authentic compassion, and that "this connection to compassion is the most urgent thing our country needs."
Every child, Pritchard said, has gifts that approach genius, if the adults around them will only "slow down the day" long enough to realize "how much that genius can give to us in our communities."
"Don't see children for who they are," he said. "See them for who they can become."