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Greg Mortenson: ‘When Your Heart Speaks, Take Good Notes’

Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh (left) with Greg Mortenson at the inaugural Presidential Speaker Series lecture last month. Starting with a promise in Korphe, Pakistan, Mortenson has pioneered creation of 178 schools throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan, currently educating 75,000 students. Photo by Rajah Bose.

Gonzaga President Dr. Thayne McCulloh (left) with Greg Mortenson at the inaugural Presidential Speaker Series lecture last month. Starting with a promise in Korphe, Pakistan, Mortenson has pioneered creation of 178 schools throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan, currently educating 75,000 students. Photo by Rajah Bose.

View video of Greg Mortenson’s presentation
through Monday, April 25, 2011

By Mary Jantsch
Class of 2013

A wide goofy grin spread across his face while a single strand of brown hair kept his forehead company. His chestnut eyes left the reporters’ only for a

Mary Jantsch

moment as he reached for the “Go Zags” poster on the coffee table. Grasping it with both hands Greg Mortenson’s imitation of a cheerleader suggested his earlier days probably weren’t spent ‘rah-rah-ing’ on the sidelines. However, the point was not lost. As a man who continually improves the world, he was likening his work to a cheerleader – encouraging people to get what they want.

What Mortenson has achieved in the process is much more than a pair of pom-poms. Starting with a promise in Korphe, Pakistan, he has pioneered the creation of 178 schools throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan, currently educating 75,000 students. After his first book “Three Cups of Tea” lounged on The New York Times’ best-seller list for three years, Mortenson followed it up with a second book “Stones into Schools.” Mortenson has brought his mission of education to America via a national speaking tour in which he serves as an irreplaceable resource to the U.S. military. To top it off, Mortenson is a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee. When asked how he has achieved this he will respond with one simple answer: “By listening.”

While sitting in on the GUTV interview with Mortenson before his Presidential Speaker Series lecture to the Gonzaga community, I found myself following his example – listening.

Listening, I became increasingly impressed. Having imagined a charismatic political figure, perhaps a reincarnation of President John F. Kennedy, to come in and sweep us off our feet, I was instead charmed by a soft-spoken, humble and sincere man more reminiscent of Bobby Kennedy.

The interview continued as Mortenson explained the favorite part of his work, the results.

“When you watch a child write their name it’s a powerful thing,” Mortenson said. “They’re empowered, they have an identity.”

Mortenson carried on with identity to explain a core belief of his work.

“People are 98 percent the same,” Mortenson said. “Yet we seem to find a way to fight about the 2 percent difference. Why?”

Three hours later, 4,399 other people and I walked into the McCarthey Athletic Center. My previous visits have been bombarded by the film “Zombie Nation,” and the inevitable foam fingers and shaking bleachers from Zags’ basketball contests. This visit was different.

The crowd listened intently as Mortenson chronicled his work, personal mission and lessons learned from the communities he serves, interrupted only by frequent applause mirroring the State of the Union.

After the 90-minute lecture, followed by question-and-answer session with President Thayne McCulloh, the seats in McCarthey emptied and the stage was taken away.

Mortenson’s message, however, can never be folded up or broken down. Now, more than ever, I can’t get Mortenson’s advice out of my head: “When your heart speaks, take good notes.”

Note from Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh

Mr. Mortenson’s presentation March 28 at Gonzaga was an inspirational evening with a compelling message about the transformational power of education and the potential of every individual to change lives through service. We are aware that a CBS “60 Minutes” story aired on Sunday, April 17, challenging the veracity of Mr. Mortenson’s account of his experiences in Afghanistan and Pakistan and questioning the impact of his fundraising efforts.  Mr. Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute have issued statements in response to this story at www.ikat.org. We are and remain inspired by the positive impact that Mr. Mortenson’s efforts have had for the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and we celebrate all those who work to create a better life for others.

Questions or comments can be directed to Gonzaga Community and Public Relations Director Mary Joan Hahn at (509) 313-6095 or via e-mail.

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