Author Wes Moore: Inspiring students to look beyond themselves

"Know that you have made a difference" was the message author Wes Moore gave to an assembly of students on January 20. "I know that a lot of people are asking you 'What do you want to do with your life?' and 'What kind of job do you want to get?' I'm going to tell you something you probably don't want to hear: your greatest legacy won't be your job."

Wes Moore
Author Wes Moore

Moore's background includes a graduating from Johns Hopkins University as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, earning a master's degree from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, serving as a U.S. Army paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan, and writing the book The Other Wes Moore. The book examines the lives of the author and another man with the same name, of the same age, and from the same neighborhood but with dramatically different lives. The "other West Moore" is serving life in prison after taking part in an armed robbery that resulted in the death of a police officer.

Moore's own life was not without struggle. His father died when he was only three years old. Because of this catastrophic event, he was an angry boy who often got in trouble and did poorly in school. After years of threats, Moore's mother finally came through by sending him off to military school.

To the delight of the students in attendance, Moore talked about fighting back against the military school system, trying to run away from the school, and finally breaking down in the middle of woods as the city-boy-turned-escapee realized his upperclassmen had intentionally given him bad directions to the nearest train station. When the pranksters led him back to the school, Moore called his mother and begged to come home. She told him, "Too many people have sacrificed for you to be there. Too many people back home are rooting for you. You need to realize that it's not all about you." He was not happy with her, but years later he reflected on that moment and began to realize exactly what she meant.

"I want to be useful," Moore said to the students. "I want to know that my life means something to someone other than me. I know that what I do for others is important because of all of the things that so many people did for me."

"Wes identifies with our core mission of forming good men and good citizens'," says Thomas Ransom '00, who became close friends with Moore while doing a fellowship at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs. "His message is one that promotes a society where we strive to reach everyone and help them be the best they can be. This is a message that everyone needs to hear."

Moore reiterated that message when he told the students to ask themselves simple questions "Am I being useful? Am I being helpful?" The answer will tell them if they are making the right decisions.