‘First Year’ book: A criminal and a Rhodes Scholar

Selection explores diverging lives of two inner-city youth

This real-life narrative is the 2012-13 selection for the First Year Reading Program. (Credit: David Kilper)

In 2000, Wes Moore was just months away from traveling to Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship when he made a startling discovery: Another person with the same name, who was just one year older and who grew up in a similar Baltimore neighborhood, was headed to a maximum-security facility for murdering a police sergeant.

Moore felt compelled to reach out to the other Wes Moore to discover how two people with similar backgrounds could end up on such different paths.

One Wes Moore is a decorated Army officer, Rhodes Scholar and White House fellow; the other is serving life in prison for an attempted robbery gone awry.

Moore went to the Jessup Correctional Institute to sit face-to-face with the other Wes Moore to get some answers. He began examining parallels and differences in the environments and events bearing on the lives of the two young African-American men.

Following dozens of visits and letters, he wrote The New York Times best-selling book The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates.

‘Chilling truth’

“The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine,” writes Moore. “The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”

The book, called a “an absorbing narrative that makes clear the critical roles that choice, family support and luck play in young people’s lives” by Kirkus Reviews, is the 2012-13 selection for the First Year Reading Program at Washington University in St. Louis.

The upcoming academic year marks the 10th anniversary of the First Year Reading Program, a strategic initiative of the First Year Center. The program seeks to create a shared intellectual experience for all incoming students (and participating members of the faculty and staff) and introduces them to the spirit of inquiry and debate that is so integral to the campus community.

A copy of the book will be mailed this summer to freshmen and transfer students. The students will engage in thematic activities during orientation and throughout the school year. Organizers hope to bring the author to campus in the fall.

“The book provides students with a common jumping-off point for dialogue and discussion,” says Alicia Schnell, director of the First Year Reading Program.

The First Year Reading Program steering committee consisting of faculty, staff and students weighed numerous recommendations and determined that The Other Wes Moore was a good fit.

“Any of our first-year students walking onto the Washington University campus might wonder where another path might have taken them,” says steering committee member Daniel Shea, PhD, professor emeritus of English and FOCUS lecturer in Arts & Sciences.

Fostering self-reflection

Schnell says that discussion leaders often are able to draw parallels
between the student experience and themes in the book — which can help
students process and understand their own transitions.

“I hope the book will raise awareness and interest in the challenges and realities of kids growing up with limited resources and opportunities,” Schnell says. “I also hope that reading this book will help students reflect on their own lives and the chances, people, opportunities and choices that played a role in helping them get to where they are today.

“Lastly, I hope that reading and discussing this book will encourage students to think about what they, themselves, might do to become that key element that makes all the difference in the life of someone else,” she says.

Stan Braude, PhD, lecturer in biology in Arts & Sciences, is planning to once again offer a one-credit class for freshmen based on the book, which will be held in the residence halls in the evening.

The program always is open to book recommendations. Email suggestions to schnell@wustl.edu.

For more information about the book, visit theotherwesmoore.com. For information about the program, visit fyrp.wustl.edu.