DEAR TEENAGE READERS: I’m sure many of you received book lists from your English teachers for your summer reading. I know, it might not be in your Top 10 most fun things for summer, but it’s something you have to do make the start of school a little easier.
I am going to add another book to your list, only this isn’t one you should read, it is one you need to read as a young person who will be faced with many decisions that could eventually change the course of your life.
‘‘The Other Wes Moore’’ is a fascinating book I read this summer, and I firmly believe every teenager should read it. I randomly picked it up during a recent vacation and connected immediately with the story. It is a true, very powerful story of two young boys, both named Wes Moore, who shared the same name and age and were both brought up with adversities and struggles from an inner-city life. One young man finds great success in life, and the other Wes Moore ends up down a different path that leads to tragedy and a fate that is sealed in a prison cell.
The book makes the reader realize that the only difference in the end result of their lives was one or two different choices they each made or people with whom they chose to surround themselves.
The Wes Moore who has enjoyed tremendous success in life writes, ‘‘The chilling truth is that my story could have been his and the tragedy is that his story could have been mine.’’
This begs the question that I am always asking teenagers: ‘‘Do you realize how important your choices are, not only for your life right now but also for your future?’’
As teenagers and young adults, you are faced with tough decisions every day. Small decisions can have big consequences.
Do I do my homework or hang out with my friends? Do I put in time and effort to play a sport or just spend my days chilling and playing video games? Do I smoke pot? Do I get drunk just because all my friends are doing it? Do I lie to my parents or do I take responsibility for my actions?
Should I be a leader or should I just follow? Should I cheat to get a better grade or accept what I deserve? Should I take alcohol from my parents because my friends told me do it? Do I want to go to college?
Life is one big fat choice.
You cannot predict where your life will end up, but your choices will pave the way to which road you travel.
Will you make mistakes? Absolutely. But we aren’t defined by our mistakes; we are defined by how we learn from it and how we respond to it. Once you make a bad choice, you can choose to not make the same mistake again.
One part of the book that struck me especially hard was that we are not only a product of our environment, but also a product of our expectations. I have known many very successful people who were the product of a rough childhood or an impoverished upbringing. Yet they rose above their challenges and became contributing members of society who thrive and prosper based on their character and the expectations they held for themselves. If we expect ourselves to do great things in life, then we will. If we expect ourselves to get in trouble and follow the wrong path, we will do that. Expectations we place on ourselves can either open or close doors for us in the future.
As a teenager, take a long and hard look at what expectations you have for yourself. Do you see yourself as a cool and popular person who follows the crowd, even if it means getting into trouble and making poor choices? Is being popular all you expect from yourself? Do you have expectations of the life you want to lead or do you just assume you will have the same because your parents have created that life for themselves? Have you surrounded yourself with at least one person who believes in you and all that makes you wonderful?
Teenage readers, I understand you want to enjoy your final days of summer and I hope you do. But take a few moments out of each day to read a book that might make you think a little about the choices you have ahead and realize how just one or two decisions can redirect your life – in either a positive or a negative way.
I challenge you to read the book and write to tell me what you thought.
Write to Kelly Richardson at Teen Talk, The Sacramento Bee, P.O. Box 15880, Sacramento, CA 95852, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.