Before they even stepped on campus, the Class of 2013 got their first assignment: Read Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time, the New York Times bestseller by Greg Mortenson. Oh, and be ready to discuss it during Orientation.
But what truly brought the book alive was getting to listen to Mortenson himself, who was on campus September 3 to launch Drew’s new Common Hour series for first-year students.
A mountaineer turned humanitarian, Mortenson is known for his work building schools for girls—131 in Pakistan and 48 in Afghanistan, at last count—after he was injured in a 1993 attempt to summit Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest mountain. While being cared for in the remote town of Korphe, he realized that the children there had no school, and resolved to build them one.
Here’s a boiled-down version of his talk: Reach out to others, especially those “who are struggling, or who annoy you,” for you’ll find that you have more common with them than you expect; fail often, for that may be how you find a more rewarding path (i.e., his climbing failure led him to the Pakistani village that changed his life); and get personally involved in understanding what others are facing, such as poverty, for that is the only way to effect change (“You can’t solve problems from a think tank in Washington,” he said).
Halfway through, Mortenson read from a list of Drew organizations dedicated to the common good, including Drew’s Center for Civic Engagement, and encouraged first-years to get involved.
After the program, a group of students told me they were quite moved by him, especially in terms of being inspired to do community service. (I should say here that a week earlier the first-years had participated in a Day of Service as part of Orientation, and these particular young women had helped hand out energy-efficient lightbulbs in Morristown, scrub schoolbuses and corral kids at a day camp.)
Jeanine Moon has already signed on to participate in Drew student government, and Samantha Browne-Walters wants to help with Mortenson’s own Pennies for Peace effort. The message in Three Cups of Tea, said one woman, is simple: “Nothing is impossible.P.S. There’s a modest six-degrees-of-separation connection here. In his July 18, 2009, op-ed column, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who spoke at Drew a year ago, wrote about the importance of Mortenson’s schools as a way to lessen religious extremism, especially given a resurgence of the Taliban.—Renee Olson, Editor, Drew Magazine