Monday, March 28, 2011

Three Cups of Tea

Gonzaga University
Presidential Speaker Series
Greg Mortensen
Promoting Peace: One School at a Time

Due to the early cessation of my Monday night class, I was able to attend the inaugural session of the Presidential Speaker Series at Gonzaga University. The speaker was Greg Mortensen, author of best-selling book Three Cups of Tea.

Gonzaga President Thayne McCullough began the evening with a glowing recognition of the speaker, Greg Mortensen, as well as the expected acknowledgment of sponsors and organizers of the event. The audience welcomed Mr. Mortensen to the stage with a standing ovation, which led to cheering when he held up a Go Zags sign.
Mr. Mortensen began with a joke about being in the wrong building (women's basketball game against Stanford was taking place at the same time), and then continued with the expected Thank You's and acknowledgments of student organizers and Gonzaga faculty and staff who helped put together the event.
After his acknowledgments, Mr. Mortensen began talking about community service. “A revolution is taking place” in community service. 50% of college graduates have a desire to make a difference in their communities, and as you go down into high schools and middle schools, that percentage increases.
Concluding his introductory remarks, Mr. Mortensen showed a DVD, Stones into Schools, about the situation in Afghanistan, and the progress that is being made with efforts to develop schools there, in spite of the ongoing conflict.
At the conclusion of the DVD, Mr. Mortensen talked about the connection between youth and elders. In America, only a small percentage of children speak to their grandparents about their history and important events that happened. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, most children speak regularly to their elders and access that repository of wisdom.
Following his remarks about connections between children and elders and the importance of schools and education, Mr. Mortensen spoke about the problems that children face around the world. In particular, he discussed the problems with child slave labor, still rampant in many parts of the world. He introduced the story of a child slave he met whose great desire was to get an education, and used that as his segue to explain “Three Cups of Tea,” his mission to promote peace through the establishment of schools. More information about “Three Cups of Tea” can be found at his web-site,
Mr. Mortensen gave a short overview of how the book was promoted, its success, and some of the accomplishments it has made. He concluded this with a summary of the priorities that US military commanders received from the elders in Afghanistan: to build schools and to fund higher education. This wrapped up with a typical military spending vs. education spending example.
After this, Mr. Mortensen introduced a local military hero and lauded the efforts he had made to help a remote village, and then finally began to tell the story of “Three Cups of Tea” and his personal journey.
In addition to speaking about “Three Cups of Tea,” Mr. Mortensen spoke about some of the other foundations and programs that came out of his efforts, such as the Pennies for Peace educational program. (

This is the first time I have heard Mr. Mortensen in person, but I have heard some of his other addresses, podcasted from various institutions, as well as some of his radio interviews. In comparison to the previous experience I have had with his addresses and interviews, I was initially disappointed with Mr. Mortensen's address at the Gonzaga University Presidential Speaker Series. Typically Mr. Mortensen has spoken about the efforts made to improve education in poor countries, especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the personal journey that inspired his school-building efforts, and the ways that people can contribute.
In this case, Mr. Mortensen's address seemed very self-congratulatory. He gave a great deal of attention to the accomplishments he and his foundation have made, and then finally turned to what should have been the meat of his address, seemingly as an after-thought. In his defense, Mr. Mortensen continually sprinkled his address with praise for community service, calls for action, focused in the local community, and encouragement to all members of the audience that they really can make a difference and should never give up.
In conclusion, while I was at first disappointed with Mr. Mortensen's performance, I think it was a suitable beginning for the Gonzaga University Presidential Speaker Series. I hope that his calls for action and words of encouragement find a place in the hearts of the audience and more seeds of change social dynamism can be sowed by his efforts.


  1. Interesting what he said about young people wanting to serve and make a positive difference. The project my young women are most excited about (besides going to the temple) is the Easter baskets for children in the hospital project. They suggested it and they really wanted to do it.

  2. There are two things that give me great hope for the future. The first is the ingenuity that people continually show- no problem is too great to find an eventual solution. The second is the great desire the rising generation has to serve, to make a difference, to leave things better instead of worse.



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