Common Reading

Roza Essaw

The Other Wes Moore does much more than narrate a fascinating tale of two kids—it invites young people to seriously ponder the choices they make in life. Wes Moore knows all too well about the power of decisions because it’s the choices he made that led him down this path. A path where he not only joins many prominent authors as a New York Times best seller but also joins an elite group of people as a Rhodes Scholar, decorated combat veteran, White House Fellow and business leader.  Although Wes Moore can proudly celebrate his accomplishments, his book highlights the trials and bumps along the journey which played a key role in shaping his destiny.  His struggles include growing up without a father, experimenting with drugs, running into trouble with the police and experiencing difficulties in the classroom. Despite these struggles Wes defeats the odds. While Wes refuses to allow his past define his future, this isn’t necessarily the reality of many kids who many have experienced the same childhood struggles.

To his surprise, Wes Moore discovers a man who not only shares his identical name, but also has a rather starkly similar story.  The other Wes Moore, also raised in Baltimore grew up without a father, ran into trouble on the streets and experimented with drugs. The other Wes Moore is now locked up in prison serving time for felony murder. How then did these two men with similar stories and one name end up in such divergent paths?  

While the author doesn’t give the answer, he does provide a thought provoking story that allows readers to examine this question in detail and come to their own conclusion. While I can’t say that I have figured out the answer to this question, of all the compelling issues discussed in the book, I am convinced that the decisions both men made about their education helped to shape and define their paths. The author received his Bachelor's from John Hopkins University and later obtained his Masters at Oxford through a Rhodes Scholarship. Contrarily, the other Wes Moore completed his GED, started on his professional training, but soon after decided to abandon this path and go back to selling drugs.

As a recent SMU graduate, this book spoke to me in a rather unique way than it may speak to other students. For the past 21 years, with the help and counsel of mentors, friend and family, I have made some good and not so good decisions in my life. While every decision I made had consequences whether large or small, I have noticed a vivid trend—decisions about my education almost always end up having the biggest impact. Whether it’s my parent’s decision to immigrate to the United States for better educational opportunities, my decision to prioritize my grades above social activities in college, or the choice I made to go study abroad during my time at SMU, where I am today is primarily defined by these critical decisions.  Had I or my family made different decisions regarding those choices, I wouldn’t be a Mustang or just a few months away from starting graduate school at the London School of Economics and Political Science.  I emphasize the need to thoroughly examine one’s decisions about their education, not only because of the indelible impact it has had on my life, but also because I recognize that the incoming class has four whole years ahead of them. That is four years to shape and define their time at SMU. Incoming class of 2017, I encourage you to think twice about your decisions, especially one’s that may impact your education and take advantage of every opportunity at SMU. Pony up and welcome to SMU! 
~Roza Essaw is an SMU class of 2013 alumna and the Research and Communications Assistant at the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility.

Roza Essaw
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