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Moore urges students to see their potential as 'now conversation'

Wes Moore told students attending his lecture to look at college as a place to find their "personal GPS," instead of just a place to receive a GPA. Photo: Joe Cascio

By RYAN MCCARTHY

Published October 16, 2014

“Who do you choose to fight for? That is the most important question.”
Wes Moore, Distinguished Speakers Series lecturer

Wes Moore — author, businessman, U.S. Army veteran and host of the Oprah Winfrey Network’s “Beyond Belief” — gave a UB audience a primer on potential vs. opportunity Wednesday night.

Drawing from themes in his New York Times bestseller, “The Other Wes Moore,” Moore mixed confidence with humility as he explained his central point for the evening: Everyone has equal potential, but not all have equal opportunity.

“I will debate with anybody,” said Moore. “Who wants to tell me that every child is born with the same amount of assets? Because if there is anybody that really does believe that, there are some communities in this city alone that I would love to take you to and hear you make that same argument.”

Wearing a khaki-colored blazer and blue dress shirt, Moore walked on stage to a roaring cheer from the thousands of fans attending UB’s latest Distinguished Speakers Series lecture in Alumni Arena. He waved modestly to the crowd, which included every age group, from high school students to the elderly. His message to inspire others to achieve seemed to resonate with the enthusiastic audience.

“I really appreciate such a warm welcome,” said Moore, “because you’re always nervous when you go places where your book is mandatory reading.”

His book, “The Other Wes Moore,” was this year’s UB Reads selection.

With humor aside, Moore addressed students before delving into the heart of his speech.

“I remember what it was like when you walked onto a college campus,” he said. “You’re asked the same question, over and over and over again. So what’s your major and what are you going to do with that? It’ll seem like it’s the most important question that you will ever be asked throughout your collegiate career. I just want to tell you it’s not.”

Moore explained how people’s environment sets the tone and landscape for their life.  Some have the advantage of key resources, such as higher education. Others, through no fault of their own besides their given situation, are not as fortunate. It’s a simple, harsh but significant difference in people’s lives, he said.

Moore mesmerized students in the audience with his words. A long pause in his speech left the air in the arena quieter than ever.

“Who do you chose to fight for? That is the most important question,” he said.

In offering an answer to that question, Moore told students they should look at college as more than just a place to receive a GPA. Instead, he argued, college is a place to find one’s “personal GPS.” Walking through communities and making a positive, lasting impact is the greater meaning behind the college experience, he said.

Moore then transitioned his talk into the publication of his book, connecting the dots between his point to students and the overall theme of “The Other Wes Moore.”

“The truth is, there are Wes Moores that exist in every one of our communities,” said Moore. “People who are one decision away from going in one direction or another. People who are standing on the edge of greatness, and the problem is that they do not even know it.”

He explained the plot of his book: He was in contact for nearly a decade with another man also named Wes Moore. This Wes Moore was sentenced to a life in prison after killing a police officer. He was articulate, smart and could have achieved anything he wanted. The potential for the “other” Wes Moore was there.

“I’m a very firm believer that potential in this country is universal,” Moore said. “Opportunity is not.”

The way we look at life and the impact on our communities is not a future conversation, but “a now conversation,” he said. He challenged audience members by asking them what they can do now to make an impact. People, he said, need to understand that they can make that impact.

Moore returned to the subject of students and higher education to close his talk. He implored students to take advantage of the opportunities they have and push their potential.

“I think of higher education as like a brand new car — work with me here,” says Moore. “If it goes 250 mph, then why are you driving it at 20 mph? You have the opportunity. Put your foot on the gas. Drive that car so hard that when it comes time for you to turn that car in, you can walk away happy. You know that you drove it so hard the wheels fell off.”