Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 21, 2022

Wes Moore challenges freshmen class

By ELI WALLACH | September 19, 2013

Last Thursday, Hopkins students and community members alike piled into the Shriver Hall auditorium to see author and Hopkins alumnus Wes Moore speak. Moore’s book, The Other Wes Moore, is a New York Times best seller and was also the selected summer reading for the class of 2017.

Moore’s speech took the form of motivational advice focused on the stories in his book and the lessons of his life.

The Other Wes Moore follows the extremely different paths of two people named Wes Moore. One Wes Moore, the author of the book, became a Rhodes Scholar. At around the same time, the other Wes Moore received a sentence of life in prison without the chance of parole after robbing a Baltimore jewelry store and murdering a veteran policeman. After communicating with the other Wes Moore through a long series of letters and reaching out to the other Wes Moore’s family, the author Wes Moore was able to organize an account of their two different paths. The account describes the factors and decisions that made each Wes Moore take a distinct path.

“I wanted people to understand that this world is much bigger than what is directly in front of them,” Moore said. “I wanted people to understand how thin that line is between them and somebody else, and how sometimes the people who you can be so quick to castigate or so quick to make jokes about or act like they are completely irrelevant, how close they really are to us.”

At 34 years of age, Moore’s work experience ranges across a number of fields. He served in Afghanistan as a paratrooper and captain in the Army. Following his tour of duty, Moore analyzed the rise and impact of radical Islamism in the Western Hemisphere as he spearheaded the American strategic support plan for the Afghan Reconciliation Program. He later became a Special Assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a White House fellow. Moore has also worked for Citigroup where he worked on global technology and alternative investments. In 2010, Moore released The Other Wes Moore, making him a best-selling author, and he currently hosts the TV show Beyond Belief on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Among a myriad of other positions, Moore currently holds a seat on the Johns Hopkins University Board of Trustees.

Moore graduated from Hopkins with a degree in International Studies in 2001. At Hopkins, he was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and the football team. Moore also founded the organization STAND! (Students Taking A New Direction), which pairs students from Baltimore’s juvenile detention centers with mentors from Hopkins. STAND still operates at Hopkins to this day.

After graduating, Moore continued his studies in international affairs at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.

“It was here that, in many cases, I literally became a man. It was here that I got a much better understanding of who I was as a person and what I was supposed to be doing on this planet,” he said, referring to Hopkins.

Moore, a Maryland native, moved to New York City after his father died when he was three years old. There, he attended Riverdale Country School where he was suspended for multiple infractions including regularly skipping school, spraying graffiti and fighting.

By age 12, Moore’s mother sent him to Valley Forge Military Academy, an all-boys boarding school in southeastern Pennsylvania. It was at boarding school that Moore received memorable advice from a colonel who had been diagnosed with cancer.

“He said when it is time for you to leave — whether it is time to leave your school, or whether it is time to leave your community, or whether it is time to leave this life — make sure that it mattered that you were ever even here,” Moore said. “None of us are promised anything, none of us are promised more days, more weeks, more years, no nothing...the only thing I know is that, while we are here, let’s do something.”

Moore spent much of his time on stage relating this advice to the general themes of higher education and what it means for Hopkins students.

“You are a member of Johns Hopkins University. People are going to listen to you and take you seriously simply because it came out of your mouth. So what will you do with that and who will you fight for? How will you make your time here relevant?” he asked.

Moore urged students to look beyond grades and homework and to instead look at their time at Hopkins as an opportunity to find personal growth through interacting with the greater community of Baltimore. In order to do so, however, Moore emphasized the need to overlook the negative stigmas of the city often heard on campus.

“You’re going to hear people tell you to stay away from x, stay away from y, stay away from z, and the best thing you can do is just keep your head down and get out of there as fast as possible and leave this city as soon as you get the chance,” Moore said. “But then there’s also a hope that you’ll hear another voice — that you’ll hear another voice that will remind you of how necessary you are, of how important you are and how important your voice is.”

Moore strongly emphasized the importance of education in allowing people of all backgrounds to pursue their dreams.

“I am a firm believer that potential in this country is universal, opportunity is not.” Moore said. “And the difference between potential and where we all end up, is where we all come in, all of us...there are a couple things that I know do fundamentally matter about who we are and where we end up, and one of those things is education.”

Moore pushed the point further with a personal example from his book. He cited the fact that Mary Moore, the other Wes Moore’s mother, was the first in her family to attend college. She graduated from Baltimore City College with honors and then went to Hopkins. But two semesters into her college career, her grants were cut and she was forced to leave college.

“I can’t help but think how different her life would have been if she had the chance to finish college,” Moore said.

Another point that Moore highlighted was the impact of expectations, noting that what people think of themselves and others is important, since it has a funny way of becoming reality.

“Someone once said to me that ‘it’s a real shame that you lived up to your expectations while the other Wes didn’t,’ and I tell them that ‘the real shame is that we both did.’ That’s the real shame,” Moore said.

Near the end of his talk, Moore aimed to inspire the audience by relating Hopkins to a Lamborghini car. Recognizing how fast the car can go, Moore then slandered people’s tendency to drive slowly so that people can see that they are driving a fancy car.

“You were put behind the wheel of something special; don’t push this thing 30 miles per hour so that everybody can see you and be proud of you that you are sitting behind the wheel of a car,” Moore said. “Take it out for a spin. Let’s see how fast this thing can go, and you will never regret it.”

In regards to the book’s title, Moore admitted that he was not very happy with putting his own name in the title of his book at first. However, after explaining the publishing company’s rationale, Moore was able to make an argument for the title.

“The most important thing about the title is the ‘other,’ the fact that our society disposes of ‘others.’ People who do not look like us, who do not speak like us, who might live in the other part of town than us — but whose destiny matters as much in the long term safety and security and greatness of our community as ours does — the ‘others,’” Moore said.

Moore also noted the fact that the bulk of the profits from the book go to City Year, an organization dedicated to fixing the achievement gap in education in the United States, as well as the U.S. Dream Academy, an organization that runs after school programs for at-risk youth.

Special Assistant to the Deans of Student Life, Dan Ferrara, was one of the coordinators who helped choose The Other Wes Moore as the freshmen summer reading assignment and who arranged for Moore to come speak on campus.

“The fact that Wes is just such a compelling speaker [is why we chose him]. We thought that if we could just get him here and combine that with the message of the book to talk to the freshmen class and anyone else who would want to attend — it would be a fantastic program,” Ferrara said.

This year marks the seventh year of the freshmen book read program, in which every incoming freshmen gets a copy of the same book. Reading the book is not mandatory, yet every year, there is programming that revolves around the book. This year, Hopkins was able to bring in the author to speak.

With the freshmen summer read also comes an essay competition. This year’s first prize winner was freshman Saachi Nangia. As an incentive to participate, every student who submitted an essay to the competition was invited to have dinner with Moore in the Shriver Hall board room before his talk.

Rachel Kinney was just one of the freshmen in attendance who had positive things to say about Moore’s talk.

“This talk for me was just — inspirational is cliché — but it’s the word for it,” Kinney said. “His speech really inspired me to really want to make my time here truly worth something and make a difference.”

Freshmen were not the only ones in attendance. Sophomores Abby Delamater  and Adrian Pearl also enjoyed Moore’s talk.

“After hearing him speak, I just wanted to go home and change my life — I mean he was that inspiring,” Delamater said.

Pearl saw the talk as a further solidification of the obligation to serve the outside community, an obligation he first noticed when he arrived on campus.

“Hearing Wes speak, it just makes it all more real, about how that obligation exists and how great a place this is,” Pearl said.

Many community members were also in attendance, including Valerie Butler. As program manager for Bio-Eyes, a self-funded program within the Carnegie Institute for Sciences that brings fish into classrooms to teach students about biology, Butler works with students in Baltimore’s schools first-hand.

“[The book is] relevant. We have a lot of issues here in Baltimore, and there are a lot of people doing great work, but there is a lot of work to do,” Butler said.

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