‘Straddling this line of greatness’

N-Wes-Moore-cropped Colby Patterson
Wes Moore speaks to students in the David Eccles Business building last Friday morning. Photo by Brent Uberty

Wes Moore speaks to students in the David Eccles Business building last Friday morning. Photo by Brent Uberty

For Wes Moore, sometimes even the smallest decisions can mean the difference between a lifetime of success and a life in prison.

Moore, author of The Other Wes Moore, spoke to students about higher education, decision-making and citizenship on Friday in the Spencer Fox Eccles Business building.

During the address, Moore referenced many experiences from his own life and from his book to illustrate the purpose of higher education and what it means to be a citizen.

The book contrasts the lives of two men, both named Wes Moore. One of these men — the one who addressed students on Friday — is a respected veteran, author and Rhodes scholar. The other is in prison for life on charges of homicide.

When Moore first learned of the convicted felon with the same name, he wanted to find out more about him. Moore eventually sent him a letter, unsure of what the outcome would be.

“The letter that I received [back] from him was one of the most interesting and articulate letters that I have ever received in my life,” Moore said.

Moore said what surprised him most as he learned about the other Wes Moore was how similar their lives were. Both individuals were around the same age, came from the same area, had similar backgrounds and, of course, had the same name.

As he continued to correspond with the other Wes Moore, Moore said he started to realize that the subtle differences in their lives led them to entirely different outcomes. Moore said this realization helped him to understand how great of an impact even the smallest change can have on an individual’s trajectory.

“The fact is there are Wes Moores that live in every one of our communities, in every one of our schools and every one of our lives, kids who are literally one decision away from going one direction or going a completely different direction, people who every day are straddling this line of greatness,” Moore said. “The problem is they don’t even know it.”

Moore said he hopes students at the U will evaluate how they can be involved in changing the lives of those around them for the better.

“The whole point of higher education is coming up with a clear definition in your own mind about who you are, and who you’ll fight for,” Moore said. “If the only thing you walk away from the graduation stage with is a degree or a piece of paper, then you’ve missed the point.”

Aaron Rutledge, a senior in human development and family studies, said he felt Moore’s example would have a positive effect on communities throughout the world.

“He’s very relatable,” Rutledge said. “People in the community who are going through hardships can say ‘look what he’s become look at the success he’s had.’ I feel like that could have a huge impact on the community at any level.”

Moore said he hopes that communities can come together to support those who, for whatever reason, may have been distanced from the circle of humanity.

“I’m a very firm believer that potential in this country is universal,” Moore said. “Opportunity is not. And the difference — the space between potential and where we end up — is where we all collectively come in.”

a.jose@chronicle.utah