USC Aiken's annual freshman convocation highlighted an award-winning writer named Wes Moore, who spoke to nearly 700 first-year students about a nonfiction book he wrote in 2010 about himself and another guy named Wes Moore.
In the streets of Baltimore through his teenage years, the author Moore managed to avoid some wrong choices – graduating from Johns Hopkins, earning a Rhodes Scholarship, serving in a combat zone in Afghanistan and becoming a White House Fellow.
The other Wes Moore also grew up in Baltimore in a troubled setting. He became a drug dealer, fathered four children and then robbed a jewelry store, a crime that went terribly bad. An off-duty police officer worked there as a security guard and was shot to death. The other Wes Moore will stay in prison for the rest of his life.
The author wrote “The Other Wes Moore” four years ago, citing the similarities of their youth and the directions that veered sharply. He spent three years on the book, interviewing members of both families and visiting and exchanging letters with the imprisoned man.
Yet the book is less about the two men – now in their mid-30s, the writer said. On this day, it's more about the USCA freshmen as they prepare for their college careers. The students are not there to simply obtain a good GPA and walk across a stage four years from now, Moore said.
“It's about what you're doing here and why you're on the planet,” he said. “The biggest question is who you stand up for. Advocating is not easy, but it's about who you speak for when no one else does.”
Still, those messages can be found in his book: the intersections that emerge in anyone's life. Many people spoke to the other Wes Moore but they made no sense to him. He couldn't get away from the money drug dealing brought in. He had been in and out of jail, and later he decided to proverbially turn things around – even joining the Job Corps to learn a trade.
Dr. Sandra Jordan, USCA's chancellor, also encouraged the students to accept their opportunities in college and go out to make a difference in the world. She cited a passage from Moore's book: When people are young, he wrote, they often don't see life outside their city, even their own room. Decisions can follow on that limited view.
Moore did move from Baltimore to the Bronx, to a military high school.
But that “didn't change my way of thinking,” he wrote. Instead, he found himself surrounded by so many people – especially his mother – who served as role models and mentors.
They “kept pushing me to see more than what was directly in front of me,” Moore said, “to see the boundless possibilities of the wider world and the unexplored possibilities within myself.”
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.