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The Commons Reading


Every incoming first-year class has something in common before arriving on campus: The Commons Reading – a text that all students with a domestic mailing address receive in the mail prior to move-in and are expected to read. Students with an international mailing address will receive a digital copy of the book via email.

All incoming students are asked to complete a reflective essay on The Commons Reading prior to the start of classes. Instructions on how to complete the assignment will be mailed along with the text and made available online in June. This assignment forms the basis for a community-wide dialogue that begins during orientation and continues throughout the year and takes place in houses, Vanderbilt Visions groups, and across campus. In the fall, all new students will be invited to attend the 15th Annual Lawson Lecture which will further develop the themes expressed in the book.

The Commons Reading is selected by a committee of faculty VUceptors with representation from VUcept, Transfer Connect, and iLEAD. The Commons Reading for the Class of 2025 is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Published in 2016, When Breath Becomes Air offers readers an intimate look at the profound moments that shaped a young doctor’s life before and after his cancer diagnosis. Through this work, Kalanithi offers his views on achievement, mortality, and the meaning of life.

In the official announcement, Dean of The Ingram Commons Melissa Gresalfi shared that, “for the upcoming academic year, our programming will emphasize ‘Telling Our Stories’ – an effort to both connect students to each other and to offer an opportunity for our community to acknowledge the challenges and hardships that are part of growth and change.”

Past Commons Readings

  • 2020 – The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias by Dolly Chugh
  • 2019 – The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity by Kwame Anthony Appiah
  • 2018 – The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt
  • 2017 – Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South by Andrew Maraniss
  • 2016 – Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South by Andrew Maraniss
  • 2015 – The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse
  • 2014 – Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
  • 2013 – College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be by Andrew Delbanco
  • 2012 – Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn
  • 2011 – The Good Life by Peter Gomes
  • 2010 – Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin