A burst of applause filled Lyte auditorium Monday night, as Ishmael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, walked on to the stage.
Beah’s lecture attracted a wide array of students as well as community members.
The majority of the audience consisted of first year students, for Beah’s book was the required common reading for all incoming students.
Incoming students had the opportunity to discuss Beah’s book during orientation as well as write an optional essay with an awarded prize from the University Bookstore.
Beah, born in Sierra Leone in 1980, lived a simple childhood deeply enriched with a sense of community and the oral traditions of his culture.
However, in 1991 when civil war broke out in his country, all normality ceased.
He witnessed his village destroyed, his family killed and his life at risk.
After running from the war for two years, the governmental army coerced Beah into becoming a child soldier.
His poignant memoir tells of his story before, during and after the war and of his time spent in a UNICEF rehabilitation center.
He continues to speak today, for he is on a “quest [for people] to understand each other’s humanity.”
After setting the context of his life and the war, Beah launched into two of his reasons for writing his memoir: context and hope.
The lack of context shown in United States media has distorted people’s perceptions of Sierra Leone; the humanity of the Sierra Leone people has been stripped and people’s perceptions are of a bloody country filled with violent people.
Beah felt a responsibility, because of his education, to help change this perception by putting a human face on the war.
By laying forth this context, Beah allows his readers to better understand his culture, which is something, he feels, that people do not take enough time to do today.
Although Beah has lived in the United States since 1998, he has not forgotten his background but uses it to shape his life positively.
Jeff Pincin, a freshman here at Millersville, said that Beah “did a great job at really remembering where he came from and telling [the audience] about the situation” in Sierra Leone.
The overarching theme of hope prevailed throughout Beah’s speech on Monday.
He proclaimed that hope is a form of strength and that the human spirit has a remarkable way of prevailing in hope throughout tragedy.
Thousands of child soldiers survive and recover because of hope which is nothing short of a miracle.
Because of the war, a time in his life where it was “difficult to trust [his] own happiness,” Beah knows that his life is no longer for himself but for others.
He believes that all people have a responsibility for each other; people’s lives are not their own because lives inevitably intersect.
Beah’s attitude is one of transforming difficulties into positive experiences, and seeing the innate good in all people.
Nicole Sheldon, a freshman, remarked that “the most powerful thing I got out of [Beah’s lecture] was how he’s been through so much and still has the ability to look at the world…and realize there’s a greater good.”
Closing his lecture, Beah challenged all of the students in the audience to appreciate their education and the privilege of expressing oneself through words, reading and writing.
He stated that college is a journey to discover oneself, one’s humanity and one’s place in this world, and to use this experience to “do good” and to take leadership.
Continuing his challenge, Beah encouraged the audience to use words as a means for civil discussion and not for hate or coercion.
The final question of the night asked Beah for one last thought from the book and lecture.
Beah’s answer was simple: “Appreciate existence.”
His answer left every person standing on their feet and an applause that greatly surpassed the opening burst.