Author and social entrepreneur Wes Moore, whose book, “The Other Wes Moore,” reached the bestseller lists for its unvarnished examination of the fine line between success and failure, posed questions Sept. 13 about the post-graduate future of Franklin & Marshall College students.
“What exactly does it mean to be talented and what exactly are we doing with those talents?” Moore said at Common Hour, a community conversation conducted every Thursday classes are in session during the academic year.
Moore, a combat veteran and head of one of the largest anti-poverty forces in the nation, was invited to speak on campus as a part of The Mehlman Talent Initiative at F&M, which identifies teaching and mentoring techniques that help students who prevailed over challenging life circumstances to thrive in college and beyond.
As he looked around a packed Mayser Gym, Moore told the students, “You all wouldn’t be here if you weren’t talented. The truth is that F&M has accepted you not for what you’ve already accomplished, but for what you’re going to accomplish in the future.”
From his early college years – the Baltimore-born, Bronx-raised Moore studied international relations and economics at Johns Hopkins University and, as a Rhodes scholar, Oxford University – Moore recalled the persistent question about what he was majoring in.
“I got asked this question so many times that it started to feel like it was going to be the most important question I would ever be asked in my life. I got asked that question so many times I thought no other question even mattered,” he said. “In fact, I literally started getting asked that question so many times I started making stuff up to see where the conversation would go.”
Seventeen years after finishing his undergraduate experience, no one asks him what his major was in college. He realized long ago, he said, the question didn’t matter, but his education, and what he would do with it, did.
“The weight of those questions will eventually fade,” Moore said, and advised, “I’m not telling you don’t do well in school. … What I’m saying is this: The most important question you are 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? When it wasn’t simple? When it wasn’t politically convenient? When it wasn’t trendy?’”
More said he hoped the students’ answer would be, “You did it because it was the right thing to do. That’s how our talent is going to be defined. It’s not necessarily your GPA. Your talent will be defined by your GPS – by the direction you choose to take your life and the impact you want your life to make. And who it is that you stand for when it’s not simple.”
Moore said that the hope of the Mehlman Initiative, launched by social entrepreneur, businessman and F&M trustee Ken Mehlman ’88, and the hope of the College, “is that you will choose to fight for the others—the people who are often left out of the conversation.”
As a political analyst who appears as a guest on the MSNBC program, “Morning Joe,” Moore illustrated his point by discussing a segment a few years ago when he interviewed acclaimed singer and actor Harry Belafonte. He asked the entertainer, now 91, why he risked his career as a social activist.
“I said, ‘Why did you always speak out … when you didn’t have to?’” Moore recalled. “He said, ‘Because it’s more fun to live that way.’ And he said, ‘Some people wake up in the morning and call their accountant. I wake up in the morning and call Nelson Mandela. Who do you think has the more interesting life?’”