Author brings message of understanding to students, staff

Lizzie Martinez

Senior reporter 

After a summer of reading about Greg Mortenson’s crusade to change the world through education in “Three Cups of Tea,” freshmen had the opportunity to hear and meet the co-author of the book, David Oliver Relin, at the Sept. 2 convocation.

“Three Cups of Tea” was chosen for the freshman summer reading program because it is a compelling story, readable, relatable and builds on the idea of a personal journey, Director of Academic Advising Kate Elias said. Elias, along with other faculty, staff and students, felt the book exemplified themes of international experience and the importance of education.

“[The book shows] one man’s ability to make a change for the world,” Elias said. “It shows the individual power of one person.”

In the third year of the summer reading program, the new book succeeds Paul Farmer’s account of his efforts to bring affordable medical care to Haiti in his book “Mountains Beyond Mountains.”

Elias said “Three Cups of Tea” is more relatable because Mortenson has flaws, unlike Paul Farmer; Mortenson did not set out to change the world but came to that conclusion later in life.

“Freshman year is the time in your life when you start for the first time actively thinking about the world around you in a critical fashion,” Assistant Professor of Political Science Pat Cottrell, said. “The overarching message Relin would want students to take away is that one person can do a lot in making the world a better place.”

The book centers on Mortenson’s life-changing experience when he stumbled into an impoverished village in Pakistan. Mortenson had wandered away from his guide after failing to reach the summit of K2 and was in a critical state of health. After he recovered, he discovered the schoolchildren were studying on a dirt floor, using sticks as pencils, and that the town couldn’t afford to pay for a teacher.

Mortenson vowed to return and build a school. It took years but he did it, and went on to build 54 more, furthering the education of 24,000 students. This compelling story, co-authored by Mortenson and Relin, went on to win awards all over the world.

Sophomore Dayna Tapp said she enjoyed meeting Relin. When she told him she was an elementary education major, he encouraged her to pursue her dreams in the field. In her copy of “Three Cups of Tea,” he wrote, “Dayna, education really can change the world. Go get ‘em.”

“I was very excited to get my book signed,” Tapp said. “I had heard great things about the book. It was inspiring. I thought I could have an adventure, too, someday.”

For Cottrell, the book and the speech hammered home important points about fighting terrorism with education. Cottrell emphasized Relin’s use of slides, which facilitated the audience in connecting with a region geographically and culturally far removed from a private college in Oregon.

“You have this inspired portrayal of an individual who is singlehandedly illuminating an alternative that has great long-term potential to eroding the roots of terrorism,” Cottrell said. “This is a testament to what passion and engagement can do.”

For students wondering how to connect Mortenson’s crusade to their own backyard, Cottrell and Elias both encourage students to get involved in their own community.

Cottrell said people who are involved are generally happier and more successful in the long run.

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