How to live your life

By Scott Westerman

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AndrewPochterThere are days when we feel like the world’s problems are never going to go away. How do you keep the faith and positively impact productive change, while facing an unpleasant current reality?

Andrew Pochter was stabbed to death in Egypt on June 28th. He was there as an intern, teaching English to 8 and 9 year olds. Andrew was a bystander at the demonstrations in Alexandria when he died. He was just 21.

Those are the cold facts. A young man killed just as his life was beginning. But Andrew left a legacy that may well outlive all of us… if we listen. It’s a distillation of everything we talk about during our weekly time together.

For the last 5 summers, Andrew was a volunteer counselor at a place called “Camp Opportunity”, a sleep away experience for at-risk Baltimore kids, aged 6 to 12. Eighteen days before he died, Andrew wrote a note to one of his campers who was “graduating”. Here is the text of the letter, provided by Andrew’s family:

June 10, 2013

Dear Justin,

Hello how are you man? I can’t believe it has been a year since camp. I am sure you are wiser, taller and smarter since I saw you last. Please accept my apologies that I will not be there for the graduation ceremony. Right now I am in Alexandria, Egypt teaching English to young students who are around your age. They all speak Arabic so learning English as a second language is quite difficult. But they are all really intelligent, just like you! You would really like the Arabic language, you should check it out!

Egypt is hazardous right now because the country is feeling the consequences of a enormous political revolution. I lose electricity and water all of the time but that’s okay because I have many Egyptian friends to help take care of me. When I am in trouble, they take care of me and when they are in trouble, I always take care of them. Good friends do not come easily but as a rule, I always appreciate the good deeds people do for me even if I don’t know them well. What is most important is that I am trying to do my best for others. I want to surround myself with good people!

I did not come up with this personal philosophy on my own. Without thoughtful and caring people like you, I would probably be a mean and grumpy person. Your kind heart and genuine character serve as a model for me. I hope that you will never stop your curiosity for the beautiful things in life. Go on hikes in forests, canyons and mountains, go fishing, research wildlife, and get out of city Life if you can. Surround yourself with good friends who care about your future. Fall in love with someone. Get your heart broken. And then move on and fall in love again. Breathe life every day like it is your first. Find something that you love to do and never stop doing that thing unless you find something else you love more.

Don’t blame others for their mistakes. It makes you weak. You are a strong man who does not need to be weighted down by people who only complain and say negative things. Speak with conviction and believe in yourself because your personal confidence is just as important as your education.

I wish I could be there to say my congratulations but I know that it wouldn’t change much. You have earned it. Hopefully one day you will hang up this diploma next your high school and college diplomas as well.

Try not to forget me. If you ever need anything, just email:

Best Regards.
Your Friend,
Andrew Pochter

If you knew you would die tomorrow, what advice would you want to leave as your legacy? Think about that. And then ask yourself this question: “Am I modeling that behavior now?”

To paraphrase a line from my MSU Alumni Association stump speech: Let us resolve together right now to be catalysts for the change we wish to see in the world. And to hold ourselves accountable for modeling the behaviors we expect. This is the heart of the American Dream. And we are Americans.