Common Reading Experience committee urges employees to buy, read, share ‘This I Believe II’

Book cover of "This I Believe II: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women"If you were asked to write a 500-word essay about a strongly held belief, what would you say? 

New NIU students will have the opportunity to answer that question next fall when the book “This I Believe II,” edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman, is part of the curriculum in some first-year course sections. The book also might be featured in residence hall programming and campus events through the First-Year Success Series.

“Students will be encouraged to obtain the book at or after their orientation session and read it before they start their courses in the fall,” said Denise Rode, director of Orientation & First-Year Experience at NIU.

The planning committee for the Common Reading Experience hopes that NIU faculty and staff will also pick up copies of the book, read it over the summer and then pass them along to first-year students in August through Orientation & First-Year Experience. The first priority will be to supply the book to students with a significant financial need. Inexpensive used copies in good condition are available online, and new copies can be found in most bookstores.

For faculty who want to incorporate the essays into their courses, curricular resources are available online. NIU-specific helps will be developed this summer. 

“This I Believe II” is based on a 1950s radio program of the same name, hosted by acclaimed journalist Edward R. Murrow.

During that decade, Americans gathered by their radios to hear compelling essays from the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller and Harry Truman as well as corporate leaders, cab drivers, scientists and secretaries — anyone able to distill into a few minutes the guiding principles by which they lived. 

In reviving “This I Believe,” executive producer Gediman says “the goal is not to persuade Americans to agree on the same beliefs. Rather, the hope is to encourage people to begin the much more difficult task of developing respect for beliefs different from their own.” 

“This I Believe II” essayists include skateboarder Tony Hawk, Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, musicians Mary Chapin Carpenter and Yo-Yo Ma and spiritual adviser Sister Helen Prejean. Ordinary citizens like a diner waitress, a middle school student, a Guantanamo prison interrogator and an Iraqi War veteran also have contributed essays on topics such as forgiveness, personal integrity and honoring life and change.

Steven Estes, academic adviser for the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and a member of the Common Reading Experience committee, says that “the breadth of perspectives in the book encourages the reader to relate new ideas to life situations and promotes the idea of how beliefs develop into actions.” 

Adds Scott Peska, director of Support & Advocacy and Military Student Services: “The brief, simple essays in this book are fascinating and thought-provoking. Having students read a common book engages them in multi-disciplinary discovery and dialogue. It also extends the mission of the university by infusing meaningful in-class and out-of-class learning opportunities that promote civic engagement and moral development.”

Denise L. Rode
Denise L. Rode

“The selected book fits well with the NIU mission statement and the Baccalaureate Review Committee’s goals of developing skills in critical thinking, communication and creativity in the NIU undergraduate experience,” Rode says. “This choice also reinforces the 2011 theme of the Northern Pact — an open community, where freedom of expression is welcomed and others are respected.”

The planning committee encourages faculty and staff who read the book to consider writing their own 500-word essays on an important belief. Several opportunities to share the essays will be offered during the fall semester.

For more information on the 2011 Common Reading Experience, contact Rode at drode@niu.edu.

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