August 19, 2009
In 1982, Barack Obama Jr. - then an undergraduate at Columbia University - received word that the father he barely knew had died in a car accident in Nairobi. For the younger Obama, this sudden tragedy inspired a journey that took him from Kansas to Kenya and points beyond to learn the truth of his father's life and reconcile the disparate elements of his own family experience.
The story that sprang from that journey prompted SMU's Common Reading Selection Committee to choose Obama's 1995 memoir - Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance - as the book every member of the University's Fall 2009 incoming class will read and discuss.
SMU's Common Reading Program is now an established start-of-school tradition for students new to the University. They receive the selected book during the summer at AARO and read it before they arrive for the start of the fall semester.
Faculty, staff, and returning students already have begun reading and discussing the book in preparation for the small-group conversations with new students that take place just before Rotunda Passage and Opening Convocation. Students will find that the book and the questions it raises will be part of the curriculum of their first-year writing courses as well.
The themes and topics in Obama's book — written years before he entered public life — have "great relevance for college students," says Tom Tunks, SMU's associate provost for educational programs. He calls the book "a powerfully written coming-of-age story, humorous and wise," in which the future president reveals "both the instability and the deep love of what was, even at best, a 'nontraditional' family."
Tunks also cites the "remarkable candor" with which Obama describes the allure of partying, and with which he tells how his undergraduate years "brought him to a discipline and a sense of purpose in public service."
"The Committee members were aware in making this choice that it might seem a controversial pick," Tunks adds. "However, the book is not political in nature and is not meant to appear as such. Rather, the hope is that Dreams will encourage students, those new to the University and those continuing, to reflect upon their own choices and goals - those already made and those for the future."
Also See: The Central University Libraries' Common Reading 2009 site, which includes related resources.
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