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Speaker tells students, ‘Use the uniqueness inside you’

Bob Upgren, a motivational speaker and live chalk artist, creates a picture in about five minutes during a presentation Thursday at Wessington Springs. He wore a dust mask and black rubber gloves because the art form can get a bit messy, he said. (Anna Jauhola/Republic)

WESSINGTON SPRINGS — Be unique. Don’t follow the grain. You can develop your abilities to coincide with your passion.

Bob Upgren, a motivational speaker and co-founder of Cross Training Inc. — a faith-based sports and leadership program — told students Thursday at Wessington Springs they can do all that and be successful.

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His message prompted a standing ovation. Upgren said many parents tell their children not to go into certain careers because they don’t pay well.

“We live in an era where you can take something that’s your passion and you can monetize it,” he said. “I make a living playing with chalk.”

Upgren creates large chalk art scenes on black canvas to reinforce what he teaches.

He spoke to seventh- through 12th-graders in the morning. He told a story of two boys in his home state of North Dakota who were selling rocks for $1 apiece along their street.

“I’ll take one,” he said. The kids were stunned and said, “Really?” They ran back to the roadside stand and picked out “the ugliest rock you’ve ever seen.”

Upgren imagined the parents were skeptical of the boys’ business venture.

“But it worked,” he said.

Later that day, Upgren drove down the boys’ street and saw a sign on the stand — “Rocks All Sold Out.”

“If you use the uniqueness inside you, when criticism comes you’ll be able to battle more easily,” he said. “That’s how it went with my first chalk drawing.”

His first performance creating chalk art was in front of 1,000 people.

They laughed as he dramatically began creating a drawing.

“Part of me wanted to quit,” he said. “Then the great part of me just thought, ‘Whatever, I’m going for it.’

“If I’d never done another drawing in my life, at least I would have honored what was inside me.”

Upgren said he recognizes Wessington Springs School District as unique, because the students have more flexibility to explore their talents and abilities.

Each student in Wessington Springs has a personal learning plan, or PLP, into which faculty and staff are working to incorporate Upgren’s Arena Assessment. The assessment attempts to identify students’ aptitudes and passions.

Superintendent Lance Witte, who was a college classmate of Upgren’s, said each student’s PLP already helps define a student’s aptitude and skill.

“But it doesn’t define passion,” he said. “This will be able to help students, and give them a better idea of what they want.”

To finish his presentation, Upgren created an ocean scene at sunset with mountains, trees and a lighthouse. The picture came to life in about five minutes with brilliant colors and awed the crowd, which stood and cheered when he finished.

“We were thrilled to have him here. It’s a cost to the district, but we see it as an investment in the students,” Witte said. He declined to divulge Upgren’s speaking fee but said some community members helped sponsor Upgren’s visit, including the Springs Area Community Club, American Legion and the Masons. Witte also said the district purchased Upgren’s assessments for all 150 students in seventh through 12th grades, which cost $19.99 per student, for a total of about $3,000.

Upgren gave the picture to the school to help the students remember to retain their uniqueness, passion and creativity.

“I kept that ugly rock I got from those kids years ago,” Upgren said. “It sits on a nice mahogany shelf. Part of my arena is you. The rock reminds me of that. If a couple of kids could sell off all their rocks, what can you do?”