By Molly O'Brien-Foelsch
LEWISBURG, Pa. — Tommy Smith believes in Santa Claus. Kate Celmer believes in the zipper as a metaphor for hope. And Molly Brown believes that imagination can lead to a brighter future.
Celmer, Smith and Brown, along with eight other first-year students at Bucknell University, are the winners of an essay contest based on the Class of 2015's first-year common reading, This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women. The other winning essays include meditations on the inherent goodness of mankind, the power of music to transcend space and time and the true key to happiness. || Read the winning essays and watch the videos
According to Provost Mick Smyer, Bucknell chose This I Believe as the first-year common reading because the faculty and staff wanted students to be mindful of their personal values as they joined the campus community. "Writing an essay is a creative way to think through your beliefs and articulate them to others," said Smyer. "I'm proud of the students for their terrific work on these thought-provoking pieces."
Smyer expressed his own beliefs in the video essay, "The Kindness of Strangers," and two faculty members, James Shields of comparative humanities and Margot Vigeant of chemical engineering, contributed written essays to the project. || Related links: Stepping in the Same River Twice, There is No They
In addition to the common reading and the contest, first-year students discussed the book with each other and members of the faculty and staff during their initial weeks on campus.
"The book definitely inspired me to really pinpoint what I believe and why," said Brown, whose essay, "On Imagination and Sunrises," describes her childhood in her family's bookstore and her search for optimism after it closed.
"Our beliefs are not something we question on a regular basis. Choosing a topic was the byproduct of a very, very long walk in which I asked myself, 'Who am I? Why? Because of whom? Because of what?'" said Brown. "I examined everything about myself that I could, until I found a recurring link back to the bookshop. Everything I am and everything I hope to be is a byproduct, in some way, shape, or form, of the bookshop."
Zwelani Ngwenya, a first-year student from Zimbabwe, focused her essay on the positive aspects of difference among races, cultures and beliefs. "I was primarily motivated by the cultural diversity in college," said Ngwenya. "I felt that disseminating my central and core beliefs on diversified cultural coexistence to the broader college community would be a step towards promoting the already existing smooth social integration of individuals from different parts of the globe."
Both Brown and Ngwenya, along with her fellow contest winners had dinner with the co-editor of This I Believe, Dan Gediman, when he visited and spoke on campus Sept. 6. Gediman encouraged everyone in the audience to write their own "This I Believe" essays, even if they never shared them with anyone.
"Meeting Gediman was an honor," said Ngwenya. He took us through the history of the book and how essays are chosen to be published. I found his talk to be motivational and inspiring."
According to Associate Dean of Students Amy Badal, the common reading has provided a foundation for challenging students' ideas and beliefs. "The first-year students have continued their conversations in the classroom and on their residence hall floors," said Badal. "Our hope is that they will integrate these thought processes and never stop questioning and discovering who they are and what they believe."
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