HARVARD -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. died some 35 years before students at Hildreth Elementary School were born. But his spirit was alive as the collective student body assembled to mark what would have been the 84th birthday for King, known as the father of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

There was no school on Monday, the national Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, but students began their school day on Tuesday gathered together in the gymnasium for song, dance, and stirring speeches and re-enactments paying tribute to King's life and legacy.

The students' voices fell silent as they watched a video of fellow classmates recalling King's contributions. Other students dared to share their own dreams and world visions.

One girl hoped "for no one to smoke." Another student prayed for universal kindness to animals. Another student asked people everywhere to "treat everyone with respect."

"He wished for us to be appreciative and to honor all of our differences," said another student in the video.

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge spoke to the assembly. "It's up to me. It's up to you. It's up to all of us to carry on Dr. King's work."

Eldridge urged the students to "follow what your dream is" and suggested one option could be in public service. "It is something you can dedicate your whole life to."

Eldridge noted King propelled the Civil Rights Movement "at a time when it was so much more difficult than it is today ... there's still a lot more work to do."

Students were shown a video marking the hallmark moments in King's life, from his Jan. 15, 1929, birth in Atlanta, Ga., to his entering college at age 15, to his graduation from Moorehouse College in 1948 and his earning a degree in divinity in 1951.

King married Coretta Scott in 1953. The couple had four children.

In 1954, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., at 25 years of age. King earned his Ph.D. in theology at Boston University in 1955, the same year he'd join Rosa Parks in the Montgomery bus boycott campaign. After 385 days, the boycott ended with a federal court order ending segregated public busing in Montgomery.

Students learned of King's nonviolent and peaceful protests that led to his epic Aug. 28, 1963, "I Have a Dream" speech to an audience of 250,000 in Washington, D.C.

In Jan. 1964, King was named Time magazine's Man of the Year. That July, King visited the White House for the signing of the Civil Rights Act.

King received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oct. 1964. In 1965, he helped organize the Selma-to-Montgomery marches. In 1966, he expanded the movement to Chicago. In the years before his death, King worked to eliminate poverty and to campaign against the Vietnam War.

King was assassinated on April 8, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn. He was 39 years old.

Music teacher David Gilfix led the students in song, and physical education teacher Barbi Kelley led the students in an exercise set to the song "Proud." Students portrayed King's struggle through dramatic and symbolic performance.

In one student performance, "Wanda" was bullied by her classmates because she looked different than the rest. When she spoke in class, students taunted her. She ate lunch alone and was picked on at recess.

The turning point: One student befriended Wanda. Another followed suit. Then another.

Soon Wanda was not alone anymore. "It's all thanks to the kindness of one," said the narrator.

Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.