Overcome the words "I can't" and you can achieve anything: that was the message from Canadian singer/songwriter Terry Kelly, who visited Kars on the Rideau Public School to spread his message of positive thinking, hard work and citizenship on Dec. 10.
The 59-year-old performer has been blind since he was a toddler, but told the students that he has overcome the challenges of living without sight by believing he can do anything he puts his mind to.
"There are two words that stop people from doing great things: 'I can't,'" Kelly told his enthusiastic audience, which ranged from Grade 1 to Grade 8. "Even if others think you can, if you're thinking 'I can't' then you're locking things up."
He told the students that just because they can't do something perfectly the first time doesn't mean they won't eventually succeed. As proof, he asked them to write down everything they've ever learned - from getting out of diapers to mastering long division - and then consider how many of them they once thought impossible.
"You need to be patient, you need to practice and you need to ask for help when you need it," Kelly said. "When we're learning to do things we make mistakes, and that's ok."
Kelly is certainly a good example of chasing down a dream. The Newfoundland native has released six studio albums - getting nominated for Juno, Canadian Country Music and East Coast Music Awards along the way - and in the 1980s represented Canada as a track star at the Paralympics.
His 2003 single A Pittance of Time, honouring Canadian veterans, is now played alongside a sombre video in schools across Canada during Remembrance Week.
He has set several industry firsts, including releasing the world's first album with liner notes written in Braille in 2002. He was also the first musician to win every award he was nominated for at the 1993 East Coast Music Awards.
He received the Order of Canada in 2003.
Kelly has been speaking to schools for about 20 years, and on Dec. 10 his presentation moved effortlessly from serious discussions about challenges to uplifting songs that had the entire school body on its feet.
Kars on the Rideau principal Rick Haggar said having Kelly visit the school was a perfect fit, especially Kelly's message about being kind and courteous to those around you.
"If you have a school population where you work together and have respect for each other, the rest takes care of itself," Haggar said. The principal has made harmony and respect a major focal point in the school since it reopened after the merge of Kars Public
School and Rideau Valley Middle School in 2012.
Haggar was especially impressed that Kelly dropped in to a Grade 7 class before his
presentation for the morning recitation of O Canada.
"It was just a drop-in, but it became a touching moment," Haggar said. "Those students
will cherish it for a long, long time."
Kelly also visited schools in Nepean, Orleans and Ottawa during a four-day tour.