Fall’s common read: pencils and dreams

In its ninth year, the Common Book program will give JSC’s incoming freshman a look at how to turn their biggest dreams into reality.

A committee of staff, faculty, and a one student selected “The Promise of a Pencil: How an ordinary person can create extraordinary change,” by Adam Braun for this year’s common read.

The process for selecting the new book begins with proposal for potential titles. After reading each recommended title, the committee members come back together to present their opinions. Rather than order many different books for the committee to read and select from, this year it was decided to take out a selection of books from the library. In the end, it came down to “Don’t Give up, Don’t Give in” by Louis Zamperini and the winner, “The Promise of a Pencil” by Adam Braun.

Other books that were looked at early on included “The Long Walk” by Brian Castner and “Spare Parts” by Joshua Davis.

“The theme of [‘The Promise of a Pencil’] is probably what’s most exciting to me,” says Coordinator of First-year Events Emily Neilsen. “It’s about increasing educational access for people in developing countries. The other sort of co-theme is Adam Braun’s struggle to figure out what he wants to do with his life, and his decision to follow his heart and his interests over following the paycheck.”

Neilsen stresses that the book is about following your moral and ethical judgment over money. She also says it is very well written and being by a younger author, 31 years old, the book appealed to her, especially since the college has had a number of older authors come in over the years.

Adam Braun will be coming to campus on Oct. 26 to visit classes, have a dinner, talk to students about his book, and sign any copies that people want signed.

There will be other programs planned around the book throughout the semester, but nothing has been solidified yet, and the office of First-Year Experience is open to suggestions.

“I’m looking into bringing in some photography,” says Neilsen, “specifically around education, and educational access in the developing world, but we’ll see. We’ve also been talking about doing some fundraising, potentially for the organization that the author created [Pencils of Promise], as well as for more local educational issues.”

According to Neilsen, they are also looking into a couple of documentaries, especially about how girls and women in developing countries disproportionately don’t have access to education, and she would love to collaborate with SERVE on some kind of local service project around education, if possible.

The selection committee this year was comprised of Margo Warden, Jennifer Stefanski, and Emily Neilsen from the office of First-year Experience, as well as Associate Professor of Education Kathleen Brinegar, Faculty Librarian Joseph Farara, Part-Time Faculty of Writing and Literature Russ Weis, Director of Development and Alumni Relations Lauren Philie, Director of Conference and Events Programming Dannielle Spring, and student Nasser Abdul-Fatah.

“I think the book is very relatable,” says Stefanski. “The lessons within the book, I think, are going to totally speak to the incoming class.”

“The Promise of a Pencil” is broken down into 30 chapters, each of which is titled with a mantra.

“Mantras 2 and 3 – “Get Out of Your Comfort Zone,” and “Know that You Have a Purpose” – for example, are apt for those just beginning their first year of college,” said Neilsen. “We are confident that students will find at least one chapter that relates to their work within the JSC community.”