Like your first friendship, or the first time your heart is broken, you don’t forget the first book that made you think differently – that changed you from the moment you opened the front cover. For me, it happened my freshman year of highschool. I shuffled past the students leaving for the day to the centerpiece of the school: the library. Moving past the sets upon sets of wooden shelves, I made my way towards the librarian at the front desk, careful not to smudge the name I had scribbled across the back of my hand, “The Other Wes Moore.” Earlier that morning, my English teacher spoke passionately about a book that has the power to change you, which I presumed was just a way to get us to complete our assignment. Anyway, fearing someone had beaten me to the punch, I scanned the rows and there I found the book nestled between two large textbooks, pages frayed. Little did I know, I left the library that day with a block of 24-carat gold.Later that night, I entered the world of two Wes Moores, both from the city of Baltimore, both living in single-parent households. From the onset, I realized both children were strikingly similar; they were short-tempered and moody, most likely as a result of their environment. As the author, (the successful Wes Moore), provided insight into both backgrounds, I witnessed the two paths beginning to diverge. One father died suddenly of illness while the other rejected and eventually left the family. The ‘other’ Wes Moore dropped out of school and got his GED in the Job Corps, but returned to a life of crime. In his early 20s, he was arrested along with his older brother for the slaying of a guard who tried to stop them as they fled from a jewelry store robbery. The real surprise, however, is the unusual success of the author and how the doors of privilege have opened for him. He had already been put on disciplinary probation at school and had been arrested at least once by the police before his panicked mother, in desperation, sent him off to Valley Forge Military Academy – a private prep school in Pennsylvania that she could not afford – where he succeeded in turning his life around. But the author admits, “The chilling truth is that Wes’ story could have been mine; the tragedy is that my story could have been his.” Where Moore himself grew up to achieve things of value, “the other” Wes will spend every day of the rest of his life in prison for first-degree murder. My first time through the book left me just as perplexed as when I started. I begrudgingly turned off the lights and spent a sleepless night pondering the stories. All my life, my parents instilled in me the value of education: education as the spark that ignites the steady flame of adulthood. All of my friends were equally attuned to this philosophy. While I didn’t quite understand why my parents sought to keep me busy with ‘learning,’ I found a parallel in the novel, a quote that reads, “Boredom in teenage boys is a powerful motivation to create chaos.” In a moment of understanding, I had the short-lived epiphany that boredom led Wes to skip school. Boredom led Wes to deal drugs. Boredom led Wes to his incarceration. Again, I found myself at a dead-end. Why, even as Wes desperately tries to distance himself from drugs and crime, does he cave into the very decisions that entangled him in the first place? The answer lies in the deceptive nature of choice. While we pride ourselves on possessing the moral value of freedom, circumstance and luck may limit our range of possibilities. Where did the educational system fail the other Wes Moore? Did it help me realize there were bigger problems far beyond my insular world?


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