October is in full swing. Leaves are falling by the dozen, blustery winds creep into even the smallest of crevices, and the thermometer reads a dismal “high of 40.” But inside Slee Hall at the University at Buffalo’s North Campus, the air is warm and laced with anticipation. It is Oct. 15, and Wes Moore is about to give a talk to students.
Wes Moore is an acclaimed author, military veteran, philanthropist and TV personality, but he is more than that. Moore manages, despite all of his success, to be a simply fantastic human being. The kind of person whose mind holds gems of wisdom gained from years of a strict, scheduled, yet courageous life. This is, of course, invaluable to students whose minds are whirling with questions about the future. And thus is the value of the UB Distinguished Speaker Series.
Moore’s talk was perfect for his audience, aimed at those who truly want to make the most of their higher education.
“I would love for students to walk away from the talk understanding their own potency,” Moore said. This ever-smiling, intimidating yet approachable figure wants students of higher education to stop focusing on what they can receive from their teachers and mentors. College is not meant for people to sit and talk at you. Students need to learn what they themselves have to offer to the world. The same goes for high school students, who he urges not to rush into life decisions.
“There’ll be more tests, more days. If you think the joy of college is walking across that stage, getting that diploma, you’re missing the point,” he said.
Moore has lived a life of success, yet his definition of success is surprisingly fluid.
“In my opinion, success … is when your greatest passions intersect with the world’s greatest needs,” he said.
He dismisses the popular view of success as a mercenary term, black or white, yes or no. He urges students to embrace their mistakes and move on.
Moore even manages to apply this philosophy to his book, the New York Times best-seller, “The Other Wes Moore.” The book focuses on how Moore’s life parallels the life of a man also named Wes Moore who has chosen a very different path.
“When I first found him it was because of wanted posters. There were wanted posters in my neighborhood with my name on them,” he said. The other Wes Moore was found, and sentenced to life in prison. The book is centered around the two men’s correspondence. So how did a man with no formal writing training compose a best-seller? Moore attributes this to his military training. Without a strict schedule, the book would have never been finished. “A lot of folks are writers. Not many are authors,” he said.
As a military veteran, Moore has an acute awareness of the people in our country that have been affected by war. Due to this, he donates a portion of the proceeds to his books to charitable organizations like City Year and US Dream Academy. But the most influential perspective Moore’s gained from his time in the military? That of the military family. “When we’re deployed, we’re overseas, we have good days and bad days but we always have each other,” he said.
The UB audience could take one message away from Wes Moore’s talk: “Life is … reacting to contact.”
We can never predict what the world will throw our way. We can only hope that, whatever it is, we will be prepared.
Nora Wolcott is a senior at Williamsville South High School.