Common Community Reading
The Catawba College Common Summer Reading program, started in 2005, is an initiative intended to get you and your fellow incoming first-year students talking about important issues from the minute you arrive on campus. The program affords you an opportunity to participate in and contribute to the intellectual life of the College and provides you with a shared academic experience during Orientation and the first semester.
Themes in the reading are addressed in a variety of contexts: during formal discussion in Orientation, in individual First-Year Seminars, in the community, during informal conversation (with faculty, ALPHAs, coaches, staff, and other students), and in Lilly Center events such as the values and vocation dinner. Thus, the reading provides a common base for discussion among all members of the campus community for the entire year.
When searching for a useful Common Reading this year, we were more aware than usual about the weight of social context on our decision-making process. Since selecting the 2020 Common Reading, we experienced significant loss of life and the disruption of all human lives in the COVID pandemic beginning in winter and spring of 2020. Then, we witnessed a summer of protest and frustration rooted in yet another cluster of problematic and deadly interaction between agents of our government and members of minority groups in our shared society. As summer transitioned to fall, we struggled through a brutal presidential election season and winter brought us perhaps the most irregular transition of power in U.S. political history.
As this environment of perpetual crisis draws out over time, two extreme reactions predominate as the initial reactions of dismay and despair ebb. First, we become desensitized and indifferent to each additional death while each additional outrageous event leads to increasingly muted reactions as these outrages accumulate. The extraordinary becomes mere background noise. At the other extreme, we have moments where, we feel we need to move from the accounting and taking stock phase to the action phase. Surely something can be and must be done—and now. Many of us have vacillated between detachment or desensitization to these shocks and a frantic, imperative need to act as we experience the challenges of the start of the 2020s.
Measures taken to address COVID, centering largely on social isolation as a way to prevent the spread of disease perhaps make the first reaction a stronger default setting than it was a year and a half ago. If we are the one targeted or experiencing loss, it is much easier to feel (and be) alone these days when compared to “pre-COVID”, and if others are suffering, it is much easier to look past or through them given the lack of sustained physical presence of others in our socially-distanced lives. The selected speeches highlight the significant dangers risked in choosing to ignore others and isolate ourselves emotionally from others. Both also celebrate the benefits of connecting with, valuing, and acknowledging the experiences and emotions of others and note the starting point of meaningful action is avoidance of indifference. Given the audience he addresses, one (Wallace) clearly connects the importance of liberal education to the quality of all human lives, including our own, by allowing us enhanced opportunities of being human offered to liberally-educated human beings.
As a final note, the decision to have Common Readings instead of a Common Reading is intentional and fulfills a purpose related to the message in these speeches. To avoid indifference to injustice and suffering as well as sharing joy and triumph we must acknowledge the value of others. The key actions we can always take in any situation are listening and responding. You can (and should) approach any assigned material as an opportunity for conversation with the material. To encourage this kind of approach to your courses, we ask you to imagine Wiesel and Wallace in a conversation with one another, with the Mission Statement serving as your perspective from which you observe this conversation. As part of the First-Year Experience, you will then join in this conversation with your fellow students during Orientation.
- 2020: Plato's Meno
- 2019: "Teach Yourself to Learn"
- 2018: Winston Churchill's "Their Finest Hour"
- 2017: Martin Luther King's 1964 Nobel Lecture: "The Quest for Peace and Justice."
- 2016: "Stepping Out" by David Sedaris
- 2015: "Even Artichokes Have Doubts" by Marina Keegan
- 2014: Kenyon University Commencement address by the late David Foster Wallace
- 2013: Adam Gopnik's "The Real Work: Modern Magic and the Meaning of Life"
- 2012: Atul Gawande's "The Checklist Manifesto"
- 2011: Dave Egger's "Zeitoun"
- 2010: Greg Mortenson's "Three Cups of Tea"
- 2009: Kevin Sites' "In the Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars"
- 2008: Jim Wooten's "We Are All the Same"
- 2007: Tracy Kidder's "Mountains Beyond Mountains"
- 2006: Khaled Hosseini's "The Kite Runner"
- 2005: Edward Tenner's "Why Things Bite Back"