Fight for ‘The Other’ — 2018 NASFAA National Conference Begins With Message of Inclusion

By Allie Bidwell, NASFAA Senior Reporter

Just one conversation can change the course of your entire life.

For Wes Moore, that conversation was one with his mother and a financial aid administrator at Johns Hopkins University. When he was accepted to the prestigious university after completing a two-year degree, Moore said his glee was quickly replaced with anxiety and defeat when he saw what it would cost to attend.

But that all changed, he said, when a financial aid administrator called him in with his mother after the school lost touch with him, and explained what financial aid he qualified for. At that moment, the conversation didn’t just give him hope of finishing his program at Johns Hopkins, Moore said, but it “actually made it so I could attend in the first place.”

“That conversation changed the trajectory of my family. It changed the trajectory of my career,” Moore told the nearly 2,200 financial aid professionals gathered for NASFAA’s 2018 National Conference in Austin on Sunday. “The reason the work you all do matters so much is because you essentially are the dreamkeepers. You’re the ones who are able to look at and assess not just talent and hope, but opportunity. You make it real. You make it possible. I can stand here today and tell you it is what made it possible for me.”

After witnessing his father die before his eyes at a young age, Moore said he became rebellious when he and his siblings moved with their mother to the Bronx, New York. When his run-ins with petty crime became too much, his mother enrolled him in Valley Forge Military Academy.

Due to his experience at Valley Forge, and knowledge that he built and deepened over time, he began to change course and realize the interconnectedness of society. It was through the support and belief from his mother, mentors from Valley Forge, and other members in his community that he was able to pave a vastly different path for himself compared with other young men with his same background.

“We live in a collective environment where the success of one is going to determine the success of all,” Moore said. “The truth is people being able to advance in higher education … it’s never been more important than now. The access, the opportunity, the potential for mobility that it creates, it’s never been more important than now.”

In his best-selling book, “The Other Wes Moore,” Moore tells the story of another young man of the same name who lived just blocks away from him who ended up with an extremely different life. Questioning why publishers wanted to use his own name in the title of his book, Moore wondered why anyone would care about his name or who the “other” Wes Moore is or was. But the publishers he worked with, he said, told him he was focusing on the wrong part of the title.

Our society is full of “others,” he said, and those are exactly the types of people who many advocates, including financial aid professionals, fight for on a daily basis.

“The powerful thing about the seats you’re sitting in is you have a distinct opportunity to be their champion,” Moore said. “People who every day feel like they are screaming and still not being heard. People who every day might come from a different family lineage, might look different, might speak different, might call their god a different name, might love differently, who might be the first ones in their families to not just attend college, but the first ones to ever walk on a college campus. People who in some cases have been told repeatedly that this is not for you.”

In the current political climate, it’s increasingly common to hear people question the value of a higher education, and to insist that a college education isn’t necessary, citing people like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs who went on to become incredibly successful. But had their ventures not worked out, Moore said, they would have been fine because of their backgrounds and the support networks they had.

For many students that NASFAA members work with each day, that would not be the case. Each person, he said, sits where they are today because “someone saw us there first,” Moore said, and that they are “products of a belief that somebody had in us.” Students, he said, are not exclusively products of their environments, but also the expectations that others build of them. 

“Who will we fight for? Who will we advocate for? And who will we let them know that we hear you and we see you?” Moore said. “I stand here because my financial aid advisor did that for me and my mom when we needed it. I stand here today because there were people who were ready to see something in me before I showed it to them. Our responsibility is to take that seriously now and use our voice and our pulpit and our platform to advocate to do that for not just people that we have come in front of us every single day, but to do that for ppl that we might not ever meet.”

Follow along with all that's going on today on Facebook and Twitter using #NASFAA2018 and keep an eye on our 2018 Conference Summaries page for frequent updates throughout the conference.


Publication Date: 6/24/2018

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