This morning I met with twenty-five first-year students to discuss The Other Wes Moore, VCU’s 2011 Summer Reading Program selection, as part of Welcome Week. Though classes don’t begin until tomorrow, the students I met with today–and the other members of the freshman class who met with other faculty, administrators, and staff during Welcome Week discussions–engaged in an academic conversation similar to the ones that they will encounter in their Focused Inquiry classes.
I was impressed by the number of students who were willing to express their ideas both in small-group and large-group discussion. (Our one-hour session included both.) I attribute the high level of participation in part to the nature of the Welcome Week Summer Reading sessions, giving students the opportunity to engage in an academic discussion that isn’t led by someone who will evaluate their performance and record it in a grade book. Instead, the sessions offer an introduction to and preparation for the academic conversations that they will encounter later in the classroom.
Several of the students I met with today mentioned the lines that were repeatedly addressed in the session for discussion leaders that I attended on August 15: “The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his ” (xi).
Those lines from Moore’s introduction also appear on the jacket–part of the book that’s the work of the publisher, not the writer. Wes Moore mentioned that fact when he spoke with the Focused Inquiry Faculty yesterday in a meeting interrupted by the earthquake. After we evacuated the Hibbs building, Moore generously continued to speak with the faculty while we stood on Shafer Court, awaiting news. In his discussion–both both pre and post-earthquake–Moore focused not on the lines that lend themselves to book-jacket blurbs, but on the crucial roles of the people in his life–relatives, role models, and mentors–who, in his words, “kept pushing me to see more than what was directly in front of me, to see the boundless possibilities of the wider world and the unexplored possibilities within myself” (179).
The earthquake prevented Wes Moore from addressing the freshmen at convocation yesterday, but his words have spoken to many of the students I met with today. And their willingness to consider differing opinions about his book shows that they, too, are willing to see beyond their own experiences to the wider world.