Blackwell Library

Welcome to the 2010-2011 New Student Reader Program!

Dear New Student:

 WELCOME Class of 2014!  The New Student Reader Committee is excited to present, with our compliments, A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League, by Ron Suskind.  The committee selected this book because of its high relevancy to the life stage of new college students.  It is the inspiring true story of Cedric Jennings, a student at Ballou High School; one of Washington D.C.’s most challenged institutions. The curriculum is fraught by a tumultuous atmosphere of disruption and crime. Here, students rarely achieve academic success and do not graduate. Passionately destined for success, Cedric Jennings armed himself with an intellect and willpower that would conquer his adversaries and afford him the privilege of an Ivy League education. 

The New Student Reader Program is designed to provide a common reading experience for incoming students to enhance their participation in the intellectual facet of campus life by stimulating discussions and critical thinking relating to a current topic. The program conveys a sense of community between students, faculty and staff.

So that you can engage in group discussions with faculty and staff, you are expected to read this book before arriving at the University campus in the fall. We are very fortunate that Cedric Jennings, the subject of the book, has agreed to be the Convocation speaker.  In addition, Mr. Jennings will do a book signing the day of Convocation; a great memento of your first collegiate academic experience.  Group discussions will be facilitated by a University faculty or staff member immediately following Convocation.

The first step is to read the book!  To jump-start that initiative, we have provided discussion questions.  After July 9, 2010, you may visit, where you will find a syllabus for the program, the name of your facilitator, location of your discussion group and other pertinent information regarding the program.

 Discussion Questions

1.      1.      How would you describe Cedric Jennings? What is his background, and what does he hope to achieve? What kind of impression of Cedric do you have from the early part of the book?

2.      2.      What is Cedric’s high school like? What are the attitudes of most of his classmates toward school? Compare Cedric’s school with the high school that you attended. What might explain the differences and/or similarities?

 3.      Cedric’s mother, Barbara, made the choice to quit her job and go on welfare in order to give her full attention to raising her son. What do you think of this decision? Do you think that it had anything to do with Cedric’s future success?

 4.      What is the relationship between Cedric and his father? Although he is largely an absent parent, does his father have a significant influence on him? Does he give anything positive to Cedric?

 5.      What is the role of the church in Barbara’s life? In Cedric’s? Would you agree that faith was essential to Cedric’s success? How does the author (Suskind) view the church and its pastor?

 6.      What is Cedric’s experience at the MIT summer program? How is he different from most of the other students? Why does Prof. Trilling tell him at the end of the summer that he will not get into MIT? What is Cedric’s reaction? Is it fair?

 7.      What do you make of Cedric’s graduation speech? Was it appropriate? Why?

 8.      At Brown, Cedric has a stressful first year. What are some of his notable struggles as a first-year student? Which of these might be attributable to his background, and which might be more universal problems shared by first-year students everywhere?

 9.      What kinds of relationships does Cedric build with his classmates? Why does he feel isolated from them, even those who are friendly toward him? In particular, Zayd reaches out to Cedric, but Cedric hesitates to trust him. Is his lack of trust well founded? Why?

 10.  Why do Cedric and Rob have such difficulty getting along?

 11.   What kinds of experiences does Cedric have in his classes? How do the academic challenges and successes of his first year affect his view of himself and his experience at Brown?

 12.  How does Cedric’s anger both motivate him and mitigate his success? Do you see a change in Cedric and his world view over the course of the book?

 13.  As he makes it clear, the author, Ron Suskind, is a white, well-educated, successful journalist writing about the experiences of a poor African-American boy and his community. Does this limit the effectiveness of his ability to tell Cedric’s story and the story of his family? Why?

 14.  Ultimately, is the book optimistic or not? Does Cedric’s success offer “hope in the unseen” for other economically disadvantaged students, or does it indict the education system for failing so many in his community?

Essay Contest Guidelines 

Attention incoming students to Salisbury University!  Here’s your chance to win a $300 gift certificate to the Salisbury University Bookstore.  You can use the gift certificate for anything the Bookstore sells, including all those textbooks you’ll have to buy.  All you have to do is submit the winning reflection essay related to the New Student Reader A Hope in the Unseen:  An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League.

All entries for the essay contest must be mailed to the address below and postmarked no later than August 6, 2010.

             Salisbury University

            Guerrieri University Center, Attention: Lawanda Dockins-Gordy, Director

            1101 Camden Avenue

            Salisbury, Maryland  21801

Entries should include a cover letter with contact information. In addition to your cover letter, you should attach a cover page to your essay.  The cover page should include your name, the title of the essay, the date of submission, your e-mail address and your cell phone number (if you have one).  Be sure to create your own title for the essay; using the book’s title is not acceptable.

Essays should be 750 words and demonstrate your own serious reflection of the book.  You may choose one of the discussion questions included with the book; if you want to narrow the scope of your essay so that you write about one part of a question, that’s fine.

This essay will be judged on its effectiveness as an argument, its creativity and originality, and its overall readability.  It should be focused, well reasoned and written clearly, with correct grammar and spelling.  If you quote or paraphrase passages from the book, you should include a parenthetical citation (following MLA style).  Lastly, the essay should be typed, double-spaced, stapled and submitted by the deadline to the address above.  Please note that the winning essay will be published on Salisbury University’s Web site; therefore, in the first few days of the semester, the winner of the essay contest must meet with a representative of the University to discuss any necessary revisions.

Happy Writing!


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