Greg Mortenson Kicks Off the 2010-2011 Student Affairs Lecture Series

News Story: September 1, 2010
Greg Mortenson, author of 'Three Cups of Tea' and 'Stones Into Schools' spoke as part of SHU's
Student Affairs Lecture Series.

In his photographs from Afghanistan and Pakistan, Greg Mortenson is easy to pick out. Surrounded by tribal chiefs in traditional robes and turbans, he is, he says affably, “the scared white guy without a beard.” It is a deceptive profile as there seems nothing fearful about him at all, and some of his Indiana Jones-style exploits certainly prove otherwise.
 
The author of the best-selling Three Cups of Tea and, more recently, Stones into Schools, Mortenson was on campus to share his incredible story with the first-year students who had all read his work, and with many others in packed presentations at the Edgerton. Three Cups of Tea has been on the New York Times best-seller list for going on four years. His lecture kicked off the 2010-2011 Student Affairs Lecture Series

The 53-year-old native of Minnesota has led anything but an “ordinary” life. He grew up in Tanzania, where his parents founded medical clinics. A nurse by training and an Army veteran with service in Germany, he first visited the rugged mountains of Pakistan when he attempted to climb the world’s second-tallest peak, the fabled K2, in memory of his sister, who had died unexpectedly the year before. The year was 1993, and a chance encounter with a needy child there during his recuperation led to his “rash promise” to help build a school in the mountains.
 
The years since then have seen intense suffering in the region, continuing bloodshed, and a relentless assault on personal freedoms. Education, especially for girls, has been widely unavailable and has often been the deliberate target of Taliban and other extremists. And war has been a constant. Scarcely a hospitable environment for building a school.

If Mortenson had let the odds govern his decision, no school would ever have been constructed -- let alone the more than 140 thus far in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Today, thanks to the Central Asia Institute, which he founded, almost 65,000 young people are in school -- the vast majority of whom are girls. “I learned a proverb in Africa,” he says, “that if you educate a boy, you educate an individual, but if you educate a girl, you educate a community.”
 
Over the years, his educational efforts have expanded worldwide. “Pennies for Peace,” created in Wisconsin at the encouragement of elementary school pupils there, has involved young people in thousands of schools in 20 countries. The students have “raised” more than 140 million pennies for educational projects and cross-cultural awareness. This process of bridge-building is integral to the success of Mortenson’s work for peace.
 
Nominated by members of Congress for the Nobel Peace Prize, Mortenson has earned the endorsement of a surprising mix of fans. He has the confidence of such military leaders as Gen. David Petreus, who has ordered that Three Cups of Tea be required reading for all senior commanders in the Afghan war. And Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that by educating young children, Mortenson is “shaping the very future of the region and giving hope to an entire generation.”

Greg Mortenson praised the students of Sacred Heart for their own public spiritedness, acknowledging the University’s commitment of 43,000 hours of voluntary service last year, and he encouraged a number of international outreach projects that SHU is in the process of launching. “I truly believe that education is the answer to so many of the world’s great problems. That’s why I visit as many as 150 schools a year and why our children’s Pennies for Peace outreach is so critical. You are the answer.”