The Other Wes Moore Essay Contest and Symposium Honors Excellence in Writing

On Thursday, January 24, honored students, their families and members of the Saint Peter’s University community gathered at the Theresa and Edward O’Toole Library for The Other Wes Moore Essay Contest and Symposium. Student work was featured and essay contest winners were recognized at the reception.

As part of the Common Reading Program at the University, freshmen were required to read The New York Times bestselling book The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore. In 2000, as Moore was preparing to attend Oxford, he learned of another young man named Wes Moore who was just two years older, lived in the same neighborhood and was heading to prison for life for the murder of an off-duty Baltimore police officer. He wrote to the other Wes Moore, and much to his surprise, received a letter back. Through visits with him in prison and conversations with his family and friends, Moore discovered parallels between their lives.

After completing the book, freshmen wrote essays as part of their regular composition class assignments. The essays were inspired by the story related in The Other Wes Moore, and the winning essays were chosen for their narrative power and stylistic focus in relating tales of personal choice and responsibility, according to Constance Wagner, lecturer of the English department, director of the University’s writing program and co-chair of the Common Reading Program.

This year’s essay contest winners are Nelchael Antoine ’16, special distinction; Marisa Carlucci ’16, special distinction; Isabelle Cuna ’16, special distinction; Rebecca Urbina ’16, special distinction; Joseph Bauer ’16, honorable mention; Angelica Beliard ’16, honorable mention; John Cushing ’16, honorable mention; and Ondrelique Ouellette ’16, honorable mention. For their outstanding achievement in writing, these students received certificates and a gift card for use in the Saint Peter’s bookstore.

While reading an excerpt from her essay at the event, Urbina lamented over the choices individuals make within their lives that inevitably affect their destiny. She said, “In life, there are two gates that lead to two separate paths. The first gate is broad and leads to a road of destruction and many enter through it, while the second gate is small and leads to a narrow road that brings life, yet few enter through it. This concept can be applied to everyone’s life, but more specifically to the lives of Wes Moore, the author, and the other Wes Moore. One chose the narrow road that led to a life and a future, while the other chose the road of destruction and a life of confinement.”

She added, “At the end of the day, we all exercise free will and we all decide which path we will take.”

Cushing echoed this analysis in his essay as well, reciting to the audience, “Every day, we are faced with decisions – right and wrong, just and unjust, sometimes legal and illegal. Through the end of the journey, the two Wes Moores start to take control of their lives, but have different outcomes. In the end, though, it was up to each of these young men to choose their own paths.”

The Freshmen Common Reading Program at Saint Peter’s University has been designed to help foster community among first year students, promote shared values and a create a sense of academic rigor. All first year students are required to read the Common Reading text as a part of their English composition course. This year’s book, The Other Wes Moore, was chosen because it explores life altering choices made in challenging circumstances.

Before handing out citations to the award-winning students, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Assessment and Co-Chair of the Common Reading Program Mildred Mihlon, Ph.D., reflected on the success of the Common Reading Program.

She said, “When I, Professor Wagner and [Professor of English Kathleen Monahan, Ph.D.,] helped to usher in the Common Reading Program, our intentions were to help freshmen develop quite a number of skills – writing being one of them, of course, but also other skills. We wanted you to be inspired by various topics, and we wanted those topics and stories to really have an impact on your life. So when I hear your work, I am confident that this, in fact, has happened.”

An exhibit of the honored student writers is currently on display in the first floor of the Theresa and Edward O’Toole Library and features the winning essays, photos of honored students, enticing quotes from The Other Wes Moore and images from Moore’s visit to the campus on November 19, where he discussed topics from his book, including “Responsible Corporate Citizenship and the Real-Life Ramifications,” “One Name, Two Fates: The Consequences of Personal Responsibility,” “The Transformative Power of Education,” and “Lessons in Entrepreneurship from the Military: Creating Innovation and Excellence.”

Featured essays will also be available on the Saint Peter’s University website in the near future.