Lyceum Lecture Series: Speaker to share story of choices in 2 lives
The third program in the 2013-14 Victoria College Lyceum lecture series is scheduled for noon Thursday in the VISD Fine Arts Center (please note that the venue is a change from the original schedule). A Rhodes Scholar, combat veteran, entrepreneur and television personality, Wes Moore promises to provide an inspirational message with equal parts hope and perseverance. Moore's story is an object lesson in how to live an effective and productive life and, exemplified by his own background, speaks to the importance of personal choice in determining one's fate despite environmental factors. It is a truism that while we can't choose the circumstances to which we are born, those same circumstances don't necessarily dictate the lives we will live.
An enticing piece of literature I well remember from my youthful studies encapsulates Moore's message. Preeminent poet Robert Frost in the second decade of the 20th century penned an enduring four stanza piece titled "The Road Not Taken." The poem, in the point of view of a person looking back on the youthful decisions that determined the path he would take in life, evokes a tinge of regret at the final choice but, at its core, affirms a basic American value: self-determination. The subtle irony in the poem is that when faced with such life-altering choices in our youth, we are least equipped to choose wisely. To me, this poem serves as an anthem of sorts for Moore's message.
Moore grew up in a single-parent, African-American family in inner city Baltimore and later, the South Bronx in the 1970s and '80s. Facing challenges that are commonplace in this environment - pervasive crime, persistent poverty, drugs and absence of the traditional family structure - Moore nevertheless overcame all obstacles to achieve success in life. A central metaphor Moore uses to tell his story, as did Frost, is the divergent paths one encounters in the natural process of growing up. Also living in his Baltimore neighborhood a few blocks away from his family's home was another young man who shared Moore's name and was within a year of his age but who has had a far different adulthood. In his book, "The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates," Moore relates the path he took leading to success in life, while the other Wes Moore embraced a life of crime leading to his current status - prison lifer.
A fascinating aspect of the book is Moore's conversations with the incarcerated Wes and the contrasts he draws between their two lives. He alternates narrative sections on his childhood with those of the other Wes, driving home the point that in their formative years, each faced similar challenges such as absent fathers and temptations to do wrong. He suggests at one point that, with all of their similarities in background, what ultimately determined their respective futures was the other Moore's inability to think critically about his future. This led him to submit to peer pressure and embrace a life of crime while the author, after experiencing the consequences of some bad choices, ultimately put his faith in education and chose to live within the rules of society.
Self-determination and choice are the opposites of fatalism, the concept that one's fate and lot in life are predetermined and cannot be altered. Moore's basic thesis is that despite the conditions into which we're born, man has the ability to rise above even the direst of circumstances and become successful. That's not to say it's an easy process or that just willing it makes it so. It can be difficult and arduous, full of sacrifice, sometimes failure and requires a willingness to delay gratification and to take personal responsibility for the choices we make. It also requires not giving in to the path of least resistance and just doing what others in our sphere of experience are doing. Moore's life provides ample evidence that our lives looking forward are a blank slate and what gets written upon it is largely up to us.
For young people, the role of personal choice in determining the outcome of one's life probably doesn't resonate as it does with someone more mature who has more life experiences in the rearview mirror, but it's critical that they get the message. What Moore would have us know, as exemplified by his namesake, is that choosing poorly can have lifelong consequences, and while there are second chances, there are not an infinite number of them. Life is a process, not a preordained fact, and the end result is the prize or the booby prize, depending upon the choices we make.
Please plan to attend the Lyceum on Thursday at noon and hear firsthand this inspiring story of redemption and hope.
Dave Ticen is the chairman and a longtime member of VC's Lyceum Committee. Ticen works as a librarian in charge of user education at the VC/UHV Library.