Thank you so much, and good morning.
Dr. Guarasci, thank you so much for this amazing honor. It’s more humbling than you know. The entire board … thank you for allowing me to be here today. To my fellow doctors Gannon and Diamond … I’ve always wanted to say that, “my fellow doctors.” I’m with you — I’m going to wear this all day [clutching his academic robe], and when I go home tonight, I’m going to ask my wife to address me as “doctor” from now on. I’m actually glad y’all are graduating, because I might need a place to stay tonight, so I hope there’s a dorm room open.
This really is a true and distinct honor, and I could not be more thankful, and I could also not be more proud of you Seahawks for everything you’ve accomplished and everything you’ve done. The truth is that everybody — everybody up here, everybody out there — they’re all here for you, they’re all here to celebrate you, they’re all here to congratulate you for what you’ve done and to congratulate you on this remarkable accomplishment. The thing I think people also ask, though, is, while today is about you, that you never forget who tomorrow is supposed to be about.
Because I am going to be very honest with you, and I’m going to play a bit of the contrarian, but the truth is, I finished my undergrad experience 13 years ago, and the truth is, no one ever asks me anymore, “So, Wes, what did you major in in college?” The truth is that, as hard as you’ve worked for your degrees, and as hard you worked in your classrooms, nobody anymore ever asks me, “So, Wes, remember that paper that you turned in on April 5, 2002? How did that paper go?” No one anymore ever asks me, “Remember that test you took? How did that test go?” Because the truth is, all those questions are going to fade — and, frankly, they’re going to fade pretty quickly. You’ve worked so incredibly hard to sit where you’re sitting right now, to be members of the colleges that you’re in and the degree programs that you’re in, and people will very soon stop asking you about them, because those questions are going to fade.
The truth is, the question that will never fade for you is, “Who did you choose to fight for? Who did you choose to stand up for when it wasn’t easy? Who did you choose to advocate for when it wasn’t convenient? Who did you choose to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with when it might have been just you two standing there, but you did it because it was the right thing to do?”
What you study will fade. Who you fight for will not.
I remember when I wrote the first book, “The Other Wes Moore” … after hearing the descriptions of everybody [in this graduating class], like, I know three-quarters of y’all are already published. This was my first book. I had never written a book before that, and I didn’t know the way the publishing industry worked. I didn’t realize that everything you see on the inside of a book — all the writing, all the contents, all that kind of stuff — that’s what the author wants to share with the world. Everything you see on the outside of the book — the cover, the title, the airbrushed author photos, the blurbs, all that kind of stuff — that’s what the publisher wants to share with the world, because the publisher holds onto those rights for a reason: Because the publisher knows that when you walk into a bookstore, they have 3.2 seconds to get your attention, and if they don’t get your attention in 3.2 seconds, you as a consumer will just keep on walking and you will move your attention to the next book, so they will do whatever it takes in those 3.2 seconds to get your attention.
I didn’t know that. I thought that publishers actually cared about what authors thought. They called me in about 5 months before the book was supposed to come out. Up to that point, the book was just called, “Untitled by Wes Moore.” They asked, “So, Wes, what do you think the title of your book should actually be?” And, again, I didn’t realize that this was more of a ceremonial-type conversation than anything else.
So I said, “You know what? I’m glad y’all asked me, because there’s like six titles that I really like.”
They asked, “What are they?”
And I started just rattling them off. “What about, ‘Baltimore Sons’? Or what about, ‘All the Difference’? ‘Out of Many’? ‘End of the Innocence’?”
I started throwing these titles out, and I look at them and I say, “So y’all choose from any of those six, because I’m fine with any of them.”
And they look at me and they say, “That’s very kind of you, but we think we have a better idea. What do you think about, ‘The Other Wes Moore’?”
And I said, “That might be the dumbest book title I have ever heard in my life” — true story.
And they were like, “What don’t you like about it?”
And I said, “There’s a whole bunch of things I don’t like about it, but let me go ahead and start with three.
“Number one: I tried to make it very clear that the story is not just about these two kids. It wasn’t about one street, it wasn’t about one neighborhood, one race, one generation, one socioeconomic group — it was about all of us. It was about the decisions we make in our lives and, tantamount to that, it’s about the people we have in our lives who help us make those decisions. So, by putting the name on the title of the book, you’re completely negating that entire fact. That’s one.
“Second thing: What self-respecting author do you know who puts their own name in the title of a book they’ve written? ‘The Other J.K. Rowling’? ‘The Other James Patterson’? It sounds ridiculous.”
And the third thing I told them is, “Now, listen, no one knows who one Wes Moore is — so why would anybody care who the other Wes Moore is?”
I said this to them, and they smiled, and they said, “Those are actually all really good points. The problem, though, is that you’re missing the point — because you’re absolutely right, it’s not about you and it’s not about him. The name is irrelevant. You could throw any name into that book title; it really does not matter. Because the truth is, there are ‘Wes Moores’ that exist in every one of our communities and every one of our schools and in every one of our homes — people who are just one decision away from going in one direction or a completely different direction, people who every day are straddling this line of greatness — and the problem is, they don’t even know it.
“The name doesn’t matter. The most important thing about the title is ‘the other’ — the fact that our society is full of ‘others,’ people who might not look like us or speak like us, who might live in the other part of town than us, who might come from other family lineages than us … people who might not be graduating today from a school as prestigious as Wagner.”
When it comes time for you to answer that question of who you will choose to fight for — of who did you fight for — I think everybody would hope that, at some point, the answer becomes, “The others.” The ones who need and deserve a champion. The ones who our larger and greater destiny is going to depend just as much on their success as it does on ours. The ones who are looking around and who admire your success — and now it’s your turn to make your success mean more than just the degree.
That’s the beauty of everything that you all have done so far. This stage is set; this path is laid out for you, and now it’s just about you running toward it.
I think about a friend of mine named Cara Aley, who was raised up in Boston by a single mom. When she was 14 years old, her mom got a job that ended up changing the entire trajectory of the entire family — and Cara never forgot that. Cara later on finished school and started different businesses and became an entrepreneur, and she started a business named American MoJo. It’s a clothing company, an apparel company: American MoJo. The reason she called it American MoJo is because the MoJo stands for Mothers and Jobs, because the only people she hires in her company are single mothers, most of whom live in poverty themselves. From the top of the company to the bottom of the company, that’s all she hires. I always tell her, “Can I apply for a job?” She says, “I wouldn’t even take a look, so you can apply if you want.” She’s not interested in looking at my application. Cara does it as a tribute to her mother. She does it because she loves the feeling of calling a woman up and telling her, “I’ll see you on Monday.”
I think about buddies of mine like Joe Menko, who came to Baltimore because he was following his girlfriend, who ended up breaking up with him 6 months later … But I always laugh because I say Joe came to Baltimore for love — but he stayed for love, too, because he fell in love with the kids of our city. He started off in teaching and eventually went off into administration. There was a school called Liberty Elementary School, which was one of the worst-performing schools in Baltimore. It was literally set to close in 24 months, and since Baltimore City loved Joe so much, they said, “How would you like to be principal of that school?” And Joe said, “Why not?” And that was 5 years ago. Liberty Elementary is now one of the top-performing elementary schools in the entire city of Baltimore … in 5 years. And if you ask Joe, and if you ask the teachers what’s so important about Joe — and there’s literally a waiting list of teachers who all want to teach under Principal Joe — and if you ask those teachers, “What makes Liberty so special?” they’ll say two things: It’s a place of high expectations where the bar is high and it is never moved; and they say that if you go there at 7:15 every single morning, the only constant is that Joe Menko is standing there at the door, and every single student who walks through those doors, he greets them with a hug, and greets them with an “I love you.” Because he knows that, for many of his students, that might be the first hug they’ve gotten all day, and he wants every single one of his students to know that when they walk into that place, they’re walking into a place of love.
And I think about my buddies named Dale Beatty and John Galina, two guys from Statesville, N.C., who were best friends growing up, graduated high school together, joined the North Carolina National Guard together. John was a G.C., a general contractor, and Dale was a … I was going to call him “a cook” at Cracker Barrel, but he calls himself “a chef.” One day, they decided to go on active duty together. They deployed to Iraq together. They were in Baghdad, and John was driving a Humvee, and Dale was sitting in the passenger seat, and while they were driving down a road that they had driven down multiple times before, an I.E.D. goes off right next to their vehicle, and it blew the vehicle 20 feet into the air. John was knocked out when he was driving. When John came to, he looked over to his right, and he saw his best friend dying next to him. When the medics were able to come and they were able to get Dale out of the vehicle, they were able to come and they were able to save Dale’s life, but they were not able to save Dale’s legs. And when Dale came home, he received treatment and he received his hero’s welcome, but what people didn’t realize is that there were other people injured in that vehicle that day as well, and John was the only one without physical injuries. But John had a very serious case of PTSD, of T.B.I. — traumatic brain injury — and John eventually became suicidal. And the only person who noticed was Dale. And one day, Dale went to go and see John, and he said, “You know how you always say, ‘If there is anything I can do to help you, let me know’?” And John said, “Yes, anything, it was my fault, I am so sorry, I was driving the vehicle.” And Dale said, “First of all, it wasn’t your fault. And, second of all,” he said, “I want to build homes for service-disabled veterans.” And John kind of pauses for a second and says, “How are you going to build homes? You have no legs.” And Dale said, “But you do.” And they first started by building a ramp for a service-disabled Vietnam veteran they knew who lived in Statesville, N.C., with them, and they have since started an organization called Purple Heart Homes where now these two guys from Statesville, N.C., go around the country, building homes together for service-disabled veterans.
Cara. Joe. Dale. John. All of you. You fight for “the others.” You fight to make sure that all people understand that they are a part of this conversation and they are a part of our equation … and, frankly, that is all you’re ever asked to do.
My baby sister once said — she’s like 32, she’s always “my baby sister” — she once said that one of her definitions of hell would be God showing her, one day, everything she could have accomplished had she only tried. One day, God showing her everything she could have accomplished had she only tried.
We live our lives, every single day, so that, when that conversation happens, there’s only one thing that needs to be said to us, which is, “Job well done.”
We are so incredibly proud of the work that you have done thus far to get here — but, more important, we’re thankful for the job well done that you guys are still here to do.
Bless you, and congratulations.
Wes Moore served a tour of combat duty in Afghanistan as an Army Airborne captain before becoming a White House Fellow as special assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He currently serves on the boards of the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America and Johns Hopkins University, and he founded an organization called Stand! that works with Baltimore youth involved in the criminal justice system. He came to prominence with the publication in 2010 of his first book, “The Other Wes Moore,” a story of mentorship and the support networks that refused to let him fall into crime and drugs. It tells the tale of two kids with the same name living in the same decaying city. Moore’s most recent book, “The Work: My Search for a Life that Matters,” is the story of how one young man traced a path through the world to find his life’s purpose. He is the host of “Beyond Belief” on the Oprah Winfrey Network, and the executive producer and host of PBS’s “Coming Back with Wes Moore,” which focuses on the re-integration of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their return home. Moore is the founder and CEO of BridgeEdU, an innovative college platform that addresses the challenges of college completion and job placement.
For more information about Wes Moore, visit the Wagner College Newsroom.