Greg Mortenson: A Face of America Commentary

By Tony Mussari
Copyright 2010
The Face of America Project
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

The seats in the Kirby Theater are empty. The room is dark, the books, pictures, graphics and all the other external trappings of Greg Mortenson’s visit are packed away. The letters on the marquis announce another event, but the memory of this magical moment will forever be recorded in the hearts and souls of the 1,800 people who filled the Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday last.

Among those memories are ten statements and five quotations that, if applied, can change our world for the better:

  1. Use books not bullets to bring peace to our world;

  2. Harness the power in the wisdom of grandparents and elders;

  3. Get youngsters unplugged from their digital devices;

  4. Get youngsters into playgrounds with their friends where they can be children again;

  5. Harness the power of a penny;

  6. Understand that when girls are educated they build communities;

  7. Don’t be afraid to fail;

  8. Trust and believe that our children will make a difference in the world for the good of humanity;

  9. Celebrate our constitutional right to happiness, and export it throughout the world;

  10.  Listen more, have respect and build relationships.

On the dark days of adversity and challenge, when nothing seems to work, remember these quotations that kept this passionate man moving forward:

‘When it is dark, you can see the stars.”

“The greatness of America is in its diversity.”

“People can be empowered to control their own destiny.”

‘There is a big difference between helping and empowering.”

“You cannot plug in democracy in a country like Afghanistan; you must build it with the help of elders and the education of children.”

Greg Mortenson has been celebrated in many ways with many different words of praise, but nowhere have I found the word that in my mind’s eye best describes this good and decent man from Montana, this force for change, this living monument to determination, this giver of the gift of hope, this builder of schools for the dispossessed, this beautiful Face of America.

I watched him carefully before, during and after dinner at Wilkes University. I listened intently to his words at the 29th Annual Max Rosen Lecture Series in Law and Humanities, and I took copious notes during his presentation at the Kirby.

For me, the word that best describes Greg Mortenson is teacher.

Teacher in the academic sense, we are all his students.

Teacher in the human sense, he fills our hearts with hope.

Teacher in the biblical sense, he sanctifies the places he visits with the good news of education, enlightenment, equality and enrichment.

If you spend an evening with Greg Mortenson, you can not help but become a better person, a more thoughtful person, a better citizen of the world and a better American.

The price of admission to Mortenson’s classroom is a caring heart.

The consequence of participating in his classroom is a belief that tomorrow can be better than today.

The benefit of implementing what he teaches is peace and progress for everyone.

It doesn’t get any better than that in any classroom anywhere in the world.

I saw the face of America today. It belongs to a big man, with a big heart who is not afraid to go where his heart leads him.

May your journey continue. May your dreams be fulfilled, and may we realize that you are doing more than building schools in some of the most remote and dangerous neighborhoods on this planet.

You and your work give witness to the heart and soul of America on its very best days. 

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