Wes Moore: Make your life matter

Convocation Speech

“It’s not all about you. Part of the power and the beauty of you being here is understanding that it’s not ever going to be about us,” Wes Moore said at MSU’s Freshmen Convocation on Sept. 1. Moore, an Army combat veteran, Rhodes scholar, White House fellow and author, spoke to MSU’s biggest freshman class of over 3,400 about the importance of service.

The speech began with a laugh as Moore offered a humorous apology: “I heard my book was mandatory reading and I am sorry for that. Mandatory reading is right up there with vegetables.”

Moore reflected on his undergraduate experience during the speech, and about how he was always asked the same question: “What is your major?” Moore said he was asked the question so many times, “I thought it was the most important question I was ever going to be asked.” But he quickly followed up with another question: “You’re going to have to ask yourself — who did you choose to fight for? Everybody on this stage and everybody in the audience hopes that your answer is ‘I will fight for the others’ … Our society is full of others.”

Moore highlighted the idea of the ‘others’ as people in the community who need help,  or who could benefit from someone providing assistance and support. He reminded students that success at MSU is not just about graduating. “Your success will not be determined by simply walking across that stage but by how many people you made sure would walk across that stage as well … It is important to realize that your class will be incomplete if everyone to your left and right is not with you four years from now,” Moore said.

Laura Demmel, convocation coordinator, said that, “Wes gave an eye-opening, encouraging reality check that it’s not what students are studying that matters, as much as it is about how they positively impact others through the training and degree they will work hard to receive.”

His speech emphasized that while higher education is important, the credentials that accompany higher education do not equate to success. Rather success is measured by “how you take those credentials and use them to heal our world’s pains, which are real.” Moore continued, “I know people who are highly credentialed … Despite how many degrees they have received, after they graduated they have yet to be defined as higher educated because they have yet to make their degrees mean anything to anybody but themselves.”

Convocation ended with Moore reminding the crowd that their actions matter: “You being here means something. We need your voice. We need your compassion. We need your heart. Your presence is important.”

His speech was met with a standing ovation. Freshman Kylie Smith said his speech was “really inspiring. It reminded me that college is indeed an opportunity, but that I need to make sure I’m applying myself in various ways, in the classroom and outside of the classroom.”

“The best part was how relatable  [Moore] was even though he was so accomplished. He has done so many things with his life yet he still wanted to do more. His speech actually made me feel like we can have an impact,” freshman Tyler Johnson said.

Master Class:

Prior to Convocation, Moore participated in a master class coordinated by the Honors College and the Leadership Institute. During the master class, which took place in the Procrastinator Theater, Moore delved into the specifics of finding passion in work. From fielding questions about what event defined him most to recounting his experiences in the field of finance, Moore provided a range of information to the intimate crowd of students, faculty and staff.

He spoke candidly about his accomplishments, and emphasized that people should cherish awards, but they should not let their awards define them, “People put too much weight into awards. People receive awards and then they get complacent … they forget why they accomplished such great things in the first place.” Moore continued, “You can accomplish something and fail at something else and treat both experiences exactly the same. Don’t let the successes get you too high and don’t let the losses get you too low.”

He discussed the importance of setting goals, citing a quote he heard in the Army: “You cannot hit a target that you cannot see.” He told students that “not setting any real targets, or goals, is a dangerous way to live,” but stated that flexibility and nuance are important while setting goals, as situations change.

Moore emphasized the importance of mentorship. He said he has several mentors and all of them have influenced him in different ways. “I have mentors for different reasons and mentors for different seasons,” he joked. Moore went on to explain that he has certain people who he goes to for certain questions, and that it is important to make sure to find a mentor that truly has the individual’s best interests in mind.

Demmel made note of his remarks about mentors and emphasized that “freshmen should take this lesson to heart, as they navigate their way through college and seek to find meaningful work in the future. Mentors can make all the difference on this journey.”

The conversation touched on Moore’s personal life as well. When asked what he was most proud of, Moore said he was proud of being a good husband and father. He shared that his father was not around when he grew up, “I never saw the relationship between a husband and a wife, or a father and his children. I just imagined it.” Moore mentioned his family often throughout the master class and cited how they have influenced him.

Leadership Institute Student Associate Joey Morrison organized and led the Convocation master class. Morrison spoke highly of Moore’s answer, “as someone who has received prestigious awards and been asked to speak at universities all around the country alongside being a decorated Army officer, it would have been easy for him to find an accomplishment that he felt the most proud of.” Morrison said the answer caused audible surprise among the audience. “He spoke of how accomplishments and awards and trophies will tarnish with time and lose their value, but family only grows in value,” Morrison said.

After a student asked Moore how to make their life matter through service, Moore urged students not to put too much pressure on themselves. He stressed that getting a degree is not enough, but that students need to go the extra step, find their passion and fight to work for their passion. “Find the thing that makes your heart beat a little bit faster,” he said to the crowd. “Finding that thing will come with time, but once you find it it is absolutely undeniable … Once you find that piece, grab hold of it and never let it go because that is what makes the world change,” he said.

Moore ended the master class with a question about how to deal with the race-fueled controversies that society is facing today. Moore said that conflicting groups need to have open and honest dialogue to achieve common ground, as well engage in discussions with a solution for progress in mind rather than just trying to prove the other group wrong. “I’d like to live in a world where people can be proud of their ancestry and know that they won’t miss opportunities because of their race, gender or sexual orientation. I want us to celebrate diversity,” he said during last remarks.
Morrison discussed the message Moore delivered during the master class. “No matter how much he succeeded and how much recognition he received, he never felt that the job was done … His speech was riddled with a multitude of highly various concepts from humility, perseverance, self-discovery, but none seemed to rival the ferocity in which he advocated for service,” Morrison said.