Bestselling author, Wes Moore, makes life changing impression on trio of Smyrna High seniors; essay winners gain confidence, $500 scholarships

The Wes Moore people are most likely familiar with is a Rhodes scholar, combat veteran, former White House fellow and entrepreneur, who recently stepped down as CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation — one of the largest anti-poverty nonprofits in the U.S. — and is currently a gubernatorial candidate in his home state of Maryland.

The same Wes Moore is best known for penning the New York Times bestselling book “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates,” which chronicles the early lives of two boys, who share the same name and are from the same Baltimore neighborhood.

The other Wes Moore was not so fortunate.

His arrest history contains charges for robbery, drug dealing and murder.

The 2010 book was selected by Middle Tennessee State University for its summer reading program this year, which is assigned to all first-year students as well as seniors from area high schools choosing to participate in the annual essay contest that awards $500 scholarships to winners chosen by faculty and staff.

A trio of seniors from Smyrna High School — Dena Dela Rosa, Karolin Hanna and Kaw Moo — were selected as this year’s high school winners and each have received a $500 scholarship. More importantly, like millions of readers before them, the contrasts between the two Moore’s made a profound impact on the lives of all three high school essayists.

“There (are) so many aspects that could go into your future,” Hanna said. “So, I feel like (the book) really made me notice that I need to surround myself … with people that will uplift me and provide me with a better life and better resources.

“And I feel like it made me realize … that I really need to (give) to others.”

Dela Rosa agreed, especially after learning the two Moore’s grew up within walking distance of one another.

One lesson Dela Rosa learned is “that any opportunity I have with education is valuable and it’s a privilege to have because not everyone can have (a proper) education.” In addition to having taken advanced honors and AP courses, Dela Rosa is this year’s secretary for National Honors Society at Smyrna High, while Hanna is serving as school’s president of the organization.

“They are standout students and standout writers,” said Lois Bennett, of her three student essay winners. “These are stellar students.”

Bennett added, “Their essays are very impressive, and I can see why they were selected. I think it’s interesting that all three of those students wrote about being from immigrant families because … either their parents or grandparents were born outside of the United States.”

Next school year, all three — Dela Rosa, Hanna and Moo — will become first generation college students.

“It’s an interesting connection that all three of those essays have,” Bennett said.

Because each of them was willing to share deeply personal stories, their essays resonated emotionally with judges.

The confidence to open up came because of reading “The Other Wes Moore.”

For young people, sharing their own stories can be seen as a challenge. Hanna cited Moore for overcoming a series of challenges — even seeking them out — rather than using them as excuses.

“I feel like … one of the main ideas in the book … is we already impacted our environment,” Hanna said, “but we could also change that by (our) actions. We can make our own destiny if we really put the effort in.”

Hanna, who has made a concerted effort to approach live with a positive mindset versus negative, later added, “I feel like the mind is such a big thing. If you have the motivation — the power to be able to be what you want to be — I feel like there’s nothing that stops us more than ourselves.”

That is the story of the two Wes Moore’s.

Hanna described Wes Moore the candidate “as forever going forward,” while the other Wes Moore “had negativity around him and … within himself.”

“It was a call to action,” said Hanna, of the bestselling author who continues making life-changing impressions a decade after his first release. “It motivates you to do something today, to be productive today, to be better than yesterday. … I’m a believe for tomorrow, but you don’t know what’s going to happen, so you have to push yourself for greatness today.”

Smyrna and other Rutherford County high schools have been participating in the summer reading program for years. The high school winners were selected from 30 to 40 essays and invited to hear Wes Moore the author speak at Murphy Center on the MTSU campus.

Hanna was unable to meet Moore.

Dela Rosa and Moo attended Moore’s speech and briefly met him afterward.

“It was pretty cool,” said Dela Rosa, who was admittedly shocked and in awe of being selected as a winner. “I thought it was a good experience because it was my first time ever meeting an actual author and getting … his signature in a book.”

Bennett added, “He’s a very impressive gentleman and very accomplished. His speech was really motivating.”

Moore is also the author of “The Work,” “Discovering Wes Moore” and “This Way Home.”

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