Uniting People with Powerful Stories: One Book One Community

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As MSU students return to campus after a few months full of summer adventures and busy work days, they may feel anxious to start the new school year. Students’ minds are swimming with all the new jobs, internships, friendships and experiences. For incoming freshmen, it can be especially overwhelming as they learn to navigate a completely new community. 

The people of MSU are incredibly diverse—in race, religion, sexuality, age and much more—but we are united in our search to make new connections with each other. The MSU and East Lansing communities offer many opportunities to connect through public events, clubs and organizations, school and intramural sports teams, and even part-time jobs or volunteering. One special program that MSU and the city of East Lansing started to encourage students and citizens to come together is a communal reading program called One Book One Community.

The goal of this program is to unite the MSU community by sharing the experience of reading the same book, then promoting a community-wide discussion about the themes and issues of that book. The selected authors have been invited to lead the community-wide discussion; an incredible opportunity for community members to meet and speak with celebrated authors. For the incoming freshmen class, this is a required reading. By sharing the book, freshmen get the chance to join in the discussion, which allows them to meet their peers and upperclassmen and experience an MSU/East Lansing community event

The first One Book One Community program began in the fall of 2002, with Ray Bradbury’s science fiction novel, Fahrenheit 451. The first program was widely successful with many different groups on campus, so it continued. Each year, the book is chosen by a planning committee made up of representatives from MSU, the City of East Lansing, East Lansing public schools and other community members. They look for selections that are written by major authors, that have a reading level appropriate for college students and community members, that have relevant themes and issues appropriate for group discussion, and that cover compelling topics that appeal to both college students and community members.

This year, the program committee of One Book One Community has selected My Beloved World, the memoir of the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor. Described as a “coming of age” story by publisher Alfred A. Knopf, the memoir is the story of Justice Sotomayor’s determination, hope and hard work that led her to become a Supreme Court Justice.

The memoir also describes the instances of adversity that Justice Sotomayor faced as a young person. It begins with details of Justice Sotomayor’s childhood in a housing project in the Bronx. She lived there with her parents, who were Puerto-Rican emigrants. She lost her father at a young age to alcoholism, so she spent a lot of time as a child with her grandmother. The memoir also describes her diagnosis of diabetes at age seven. Although she was so young, she had no choice but to teach herself how to inject her own insulin.

Although the odds Justice Sotomayor faced were challenging, she still became valedictorian of her high school class and went on to first attend Princeton and then Yale Law School. The memoir also includes how Justice Sotomayor began working for the New York District Attorney, and then her appointment as a federal judge in New York.

The memoir reveals Justice Sotomayor’s thoughts and feelings very honestly and openly. In an interview with The New York Times, Justice Sotomayor said, “I disclose every fear I’ve ever had in this book.” Because Justice Sotomayor is so honest, readers have empathized with her experiences and praised the memoir. Many students and community members have praised this year’s book selection and are eager to read about the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice.

On August 26, 2018, Justice Sotomayor will visit the MSU/East Lansing community. The public is invited to An Evening with Justice Sotomayor at the East Lansing High School Theater, 509 Burcham Drive, from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. Justice Sotomayor also will speak during the MSU Fall Welcome on August 27, 2018, at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center, 534 Birch Road, starting at 9 a.m.