Jennifer Veit knew the book chosen for Wyandanch Memorial High School’s all-school read was successful when one of her less-focused students sat down in her empty classroom with a question.
“Where do you see me in 10 years?” he asked her.
She was taken aback that he was even considering it.
Veit, coordinator of English language arts at the school, gave him her honest answer: She didn’t know, because he was a smart student but gave up too easily.
“But the important thing was then we started that conversation,” she said, and she credited it to the 2010 book “The Other Wes Moore,” which the entire school -- from students to principals to custodians and security guards -- read and discussed this year.
The book chronicles the lives of two Wes Moores, both around the same age and who grew up in troubled neighborhoods in Baltimore. The author went on to graduate from Valley Forge Military College and Johns Hopkins University; he was a Rhodes Scholar, a White House Fellow and a U.S. Army officer who served in Afghanistan. The other Wes Moore is serving a life sentence in prison for the murder of an off-duty police officer during an armed robbery he was involved in.
Wes Moore, the book’s author, visited the high school on Tuesday for a school-wide assembly and met with a select group of students afterward to answer their questions about the book, the other Wes Moore, and their own lives. Moore said he intended the book to be a social commentary focusing on what makes two men with the same name and similar backgrounds end up so differently.
Moore told them the lesson to take away from the book is that their futures are in their hands.
“Every day we make decisions that determine what our tomorrows look like,” he said. “And it doesn’t end.”
In the small student session after his presentation, Juan Benitez, 18, a senior at the school, said his visit was the most positive thing that could have happened to his school. He said he felt inspired to make better choices.
“To me, being from Wyandanch, it gave me the motivation to do better in life,” he said. “I can look up to somebody.”
Moore emphasized the importance of picking the right friends and being surrounded by people who are supportive.
“We’re used to people telling us we can’t do things,” said Ian Jean-Pierre, a senior at the school.
At the end of the session, Principal Paul Sibblies introduced Moore to Jean-Pierre, pointing him out as an example of the lessons in the book.
Sibblies said that Jean-Pierre was on a path that could have landed him in trouble, but he took it upon himself to change his direction. He’s now a star athlete, successful student and respectful, considerate person.
Jean-Pierre is hoping to go to Stony Brook University next year to study medicine. He said the book was a great fit for the school read.
“It tells us that no matter where you come from, you determine what you can do,” he said. “The sky’s the limit.”