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College Common Reads: Learning From 'Wes Moore'

Many colleges are assigning all incoming freshman a common book to read and discuss in their first week on campus.
Many colleges are assigning all incoming freshman a common book to read and discuss in their first week on campus.

A growing number of colleges are assigning "common reads" — books that all incoming freshmen must read over the summer and prepare to discuss in their first week on campus.

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, is one of 2011's most popular common reads. In the book, author Wes Moore tracks his own life, alongside the fate of another man of the same name.

While both Wes Moores grew up in poverty in Baltimore, the two men had dramatically different fates: The author became a Rhodes Scholar, while the other Moore is serving a life sentence in prison for murder.

University of Louisville junior Sirena Wurth is a freshman orientation leader who helps facilitate freshman discussions about The Other Wes Moore. Wurth and Moore tell NPR's Rebecca Roberts that they are thrilled at how students and schools are responding to the book.

Interview Highlights

On what students can learn about the importance of expectations

Wurth: "I think a lot of freshmen come in and they either have expectations coming in from their parents, or expectations coming in that they've set personally. And I think in [The Other Wes Moore] you really, really see the impact that expectations can have, not only in life, but specifically how they can apply it toward their education. ... I think that's something that a lot of the freshmen can relate to."

Moore: "I remember there was actually a scene in the book where Wes and I were talking. And I asked him, 'So do you think that we're products of our environment?' We were talking about Baltimore. He said ... 'You know, I think we're products of our expectations.'

"And it's so important that these students ... really see the importance of that — that the expectations that you have for yourself really matter. Because we are a nation of self-fulfilling prophecies. And so what we envision, and how we're willing to work at it, can really make all the difference as to where we end up."

On how schools are linkingThe Other Wes Moorewith community service

Moore: "For so many of these students who are coming into college, they know how lucky they are. They know, at a time like now in particular, to have an opportunity to attend a college or university is just an extraordinary honor. ... It means a lot of people have sacrificed and worked on your behalf, and that the collegiate experience can't simply be about what are you learning. It also needs to be about what are you giving, and what is the sacrifice that you're wiling to make in order to help make the lives of others better? ...

"We're doing service projects around the country with all the individual schools. Each one of them are individual and tailored to the demographic that the school finds itself in. Some people are focusing on education; one school is focusing on juvenile justice; one school is focusing on immigration issues. But all of them are doing a larger service project with their freshman class.

"And I've been so inspired, because that really is the larger intent and purpose of the book. So to see people not only entering school having read it ... but then also knowing that they're going to make a demonstrable difference in their college campus, and in their community around it, has been really inspiring and heartening."

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