WOOSTER, Ohio – Wes Moore asked College of Wooster students to consider “who are you going to fight for,” urging the crowd of 750, which also included faculty, staff, and community members, at McGaw Chapel on Monday night to help those less fortunate exceed society’s expectations. Moore was in town as a feature speaker for the annual Peter Mortensen Lecture.
Moore, the author of “The Other Wes Moore,” a book about the drastically different paths two young boys of the same name from inner city Baltimore have taken – one a Rhodes Scholar, U.S. Army veteran, and social entrepreneur and the other incarcerated with a life sentence – emphasized that his New York Times bestseller was much more than a memoir.
“There are Wes Moore’s that exist in every one of our communities and every one of our schools. People who go in one direction and others who go in a completely different direction … the most important thing about the title is the ‘other.’ The fact that our society is full of others … people who feel like they don’t belong,” he cleverly explained while referencing a meeting about the title of the book with the publishers.
Moore stressed that the book, one of several he’s written now, demonstrates in effect “how thin (the) line is between our life and somebody else’s life” and “how society can be very quick about identifying winners and losers without ever knowing (them).”
Moore, 37, related to the audience by looking back to his days as an undergrad at Johns Hopkins University and the most frequent, but ultimately irrelevant question, he was asked – what is your major?
“That question eventually loses importance,” opined Moore. “The most important question you’re going to be asked is who did you choose to fight for? Who did you choose to stand up for when it wasn’t easy and wasn’t simple and wasn’t neat? Who did you choose to advocate for when you knew that you might lose some friends and supporters because of it … but you did it because you thought it was the right thing to do and you stuck by it.”
Moore playfully reassured the students and faculty that classes, grades, and tests are important, but his fondest memory of college was co-founding STAND!, a social enterprise that has now worked with several hundred Baltimore youth who are first- or second-time offenders within the criminal system.
“I am more proud of the people I stood alongside as we lifted up that organization than … anything else I did in my collegiate career,” said the Phi Beta Kappa honoree. “I did well academically, but the days I look back on and I smile with a true sense of pride are the ones where a bunch of other people got together and decided that what we were going to do was not about us … we had no idea as we were doing it, that it would change our life.”
Moore proceeded to encourage the Wooster student body. “How you feel about your time here … will not be simply how quickly you get to your diploma, but it will be about how quickly you will get to the fight because frankly we have far too many people that are sitting on the sidelines and we don’t need more. Are you willing to make your voices heard, particularly because now … you’re carrying the weight of one of the best colleges in this country.”
Of note, Moore began his presentation by empathizing with the Wooster community, which learned the previous day one of its own, Alex Melchert ’20, was in critical condition from a random shooting at a rest stop. He signed a book specifically for Melchert, inscribing it “To Alex, We are pushing for you and rooting for you. You inspire us all and we can’t wait to have you back at Wooster!”