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Common Reading 2022: Summer Assignment [required]

Summer Writing Assignment: Renewal

In a short personal narrative, explore the idea of renewal and how it has fit into your life. Reflect on one or more of the works within your anthology and consider how you’ve experienced renewal. You can use the following questions as a guide, but feel free to explore other important ideas and experiences:

  • What kinds of renewal have you experienced?

  • How have you had to “renew” yourself? How were you changed as a result?

  • What have you learned about yourself, others, or your environment because of renewal processes?

  • What kinds of renewal seem most important? What kinds could you do without?

As you write, draw connections between your experiences and texts in the anthology and let us know how your experience with renewal, the good and the bad, is reflected, or not, in the collection.

As you complete this assignment, feel free to tap into your creative side! Your assignment can strive for accuracy, or lean toward fiction and exaggeration, it can focus on text, or could even become a photo essay. There’s one catch: You need to be able to turn your assignment in to your instructor, so be sure to save your document as a .docx, .doc, or .pdf. Your assignment should be 2-4 pages long.

While you're here, check out the contest winners for last year's anthology, "Adaptability." If you need some ideas to jump-start your own piece, these winners are a great place to start!

Adaptability Contest Winner: Sarah Vigliotti

Sarah Vigliotti smiles while sitting outside.


Lessons from the Pandemic

Sarah Vigliotti

         “When the world changes, we change with it.” These profound words are spoken by the devoted father of Nahautu in N.K. Jemisin’s “Cloud Dragon Skies,” yet despite these teachings, Nahautu paves her own way by leaving her home on Earth in the face of danger. Adaptability comes differently to everyone. For some, merely surviving is good enough, but others desire to flourish in new situations. Much like Nahautu chose between staying on Earth or traveling to the Ring, the pandemic allowed many young people to make a choice: rise to meet an ever-changing environment or settle into the comfort that many outside influences were providing.

          Many of us high schoolers saw a change when the pandemic hit. As teachers scrambled to figure out how to adapt to an online-based education system, and without the threat of New York State’s regent exams, students were shown that the standards of work were being relaxed and fewer assignments needed to be completed. While many students shrugged off doing schoolwork, I found myself restless with the combination of the amount of time completely alone in my home and the pathetic workload of school, so I threw myself into a variety of projects. If I found that I thought I could learn from a school project, I approached the task with the hunger for stimulation. From physics labs to French scrapbooks, I continued to put great effort into my work, yet I yearned for something fresh and new.

         The previous summer I had attended a course at Syracuse University where I learned how to 3D print, a medium I had never seriously thought to explore on my own and something that I intended to marvel at from afar, but this class taught me the finesse and preciseness that makes 3D printing addicting. The ability to create physical objects from shapes on a screen seemed like futuristic technology, yet I watched statues and tools come to life layer by layer in front of me. This was the perfect opportunity to pursue a discipline entirely on my own, so I decided to purchase my own 3D printer, and I was going to do it right. I bought a printer that I was going to build myself. Every alignment, every screw tightened, and wheel outfitted had to be precise and exact in order to create beautifully detailed prints. I spent hours measuring and tweaking this printer in order to make everything correct. I upgraded my printer with a new print bed and some other modification to create a machine that was customized to me, and I got to creating. I learned many important lessons while tinkering with my new masterpiece. I glimpsed into the decisions of architects factoring in material strength, efficiency, and price, of material scientists testing different heats and learning the needs of each roll of filament, of researchers coming up with new and innovative technologies, and of the thoughts of artists delicately designing and creating the physical representation of a limitless imagination. These interdisciplinary teachings also allowed me to recognize the importance of being well-rounded.

         Adaptability is not only about how you approach a current situation, but also how you can best set up yourself for a better future. As observed by Randy Robertson, a diversified education seemed to be the most favorable so you can pull knowledge for critical thinking through a range of different fields. Despite my desire to specialize in a technological field, I chose to come to a liberal arts school; this not only forces me to collect a broad array of knowledge, but a liberal arts school surrounds me with both established and rising professionals in a variety of disciplines to learn from. All of these factors cumulate in the best possible chance that I can create the brightest future for myself because only with decisions in your present can you prepare for change in the future.

Author Bio

My name is Sarah Vigliotti, and I am a first-year majoring in Computer Science here at SU. I am from Chittenango, NY and play flute in the university Symphonic Band. A fun fact about myself is that I crochet! 

Adaptability Contest Winner: Haley Dittbrenner

Haley Dittbrenner stands indoors in a floral-patterned dress.


I Gave This Essay Three Different Titles

Haley Dittbrenner

         I stopped bringing oranges to lunch in eleventh grade to avoid the stares of the boys at my lunch table. I didn’t want to be that person who makes the entire cafeteria smell like citrus, that one person whom everyone holds a bit of contempt for in their hearts. It didn’t make much sense to me, but the boys would always question the smell and I didn’t like the attention it brought towards me. I replaced the oranges with grapes and moved on.

         A while later, I noticed the girl at locker 72 would always talk to her friends right after the final bell rang at 2:30. They would create an impenetrable wall around my locker—no match for the stumpy girl brandishing an English textbook. The Beldam of Locker 72 was not one to be reasoned with; if she was fictional her character would be criticized for being too stereotypically catty. I once tried to tell her and her friends to move myself, which resulted in an exchange that is in my best interest to keep unrepeated. My heart froze over and my blood boiled when I thought of her, the dual alchemy of man that is best kept untouched. So, in what could be considered defeat, I waited until 2:40 to go to my locker.

         Months later yet, school shut down for two weeks so that a virus would go away. I made a temporary planner from printer paper and staples. Then two weeks became a month, and months became the year, and junior year became senior year. After a while, my temporary planner became impossible to staple. I then made a new one.

         We have lived with this reality for two years and counting. Phrases like “new normal” and “all in this together” became widespread with true platitudinous splendor. I was afraid to leave the house, and now I am not. I learned how to use Zoom and I learned how to visit colleges when half of the country is shut down. I played a terrible game of roulette with regard to a sore throat: COVID or cold? Ventilator or Tylenol? I remember asking my parents if I was sick and being denied the relief of a lecture about my hypochondria getting worse. I got better at crochet and played Animal Crossing and checked the news for hours at a time. I felt relief and swore that it was over last month. I then learned about Delta and Delta Plus when I was out of state. It was over and then it wasn’t. Imagine. There is a certain sort of imagining we need, and it isn’t the type that celebrities can provide. So, I continue to daydream.

         Our “newfound” life goes far beyond the pandemic. The summer of 2020 was hot and stormy, and a swath of stores near my home were shut down after Hurricane Isaias flooded them. I learned how to spell ‘Isaias’, and I watched as Greek letters were retired from naming storms. The CVS near my house was supposedly looted. I ate a bowl of Cheerios as I watched insurrectionists storm the Capitol, and then finished my health homework as if this was normal. We are long since used to this.

         Years ago, I’m not sure what I would’ve called this. Rolling with the punches on a good day, perhaps simply surviving on the bad. Today, I’ve found the perfect word to describe it. Adaptation.

         I hold the belief that adaptation is not a single event that can be pinpointed, rather, it is a survival tactic to be found throughout our whole lives. We adapt when we change our schedules and daydream and watch the world burn through TV screens. Adaptation is finding respite in basketball and making lace from metal and changing the methods through which corn is planted. It is found in red dragon skies and a wheelchair accessible hall and a movie adaptation of Hamlet.

         Anthropologist Margarat Mead famously said that civilization started with a once-broken femur. The longest bone in the body, it takes approximately six weeks for a broken femur to heal. And this one had. In the world of wild animals those with broken femurs do not survive, they are hunted or eaten or succumb to it first. It is evident that someone had stayed behind to care for the wounded, someone adapted their lifestyle to ensure the survival of another. Adaptation is every day, and it is survival. Civilization started with adaptation, and it will survive through it.

         Adaptation is a part of life, for better, worse, or neutral. It controls and influences every action we set ourselves on. It does not matter how major or minuscule each event is, only what can be taken away from it. I have taken away more from making my lunch than I have figuring out how to pilot Zoom, and I will have taken away more from that than the next mundane tragedy.

Author Bio

My name is Haley Dittbrenner, and I am a first year here at Susquehanna University. I’m double majoring in creative writing and publishing and editing, and I wrote I Gave This Essay Three Different Titles. I’m a fiction writer and essayist, and I’m drawn to obscure works of literary and speculative fiction. When I’m not settled down with a pen and paper, I'm usually writing where I’m not supposed to (read: my left arm, margins, napkins), reading, lacemaking, or pretending that I understood the assignment from the beginning.

Adaptability Contest Winner: Jensen Duke

Jensen Duke poses on a paved path outdoors.



Jensen Duke

         I remember every time I got the phone call someone in my family passed away. I remember every time something terrible happened and I thought my life came to an end at that moment. My heart dropped, voice cracked; I like to think of life like a glass or even a beautiful vase. Every time something bad happens, my entire being shatters and it is up to me to pick up those pieces. However, I decide what I do with those pieces. Whether I glue it back together and restart again or make the most beautiful mosaic out of the leftover pieces.

         I promised myself walking into college that I would allow myself to show some sort of vulnerability— more than I have before with people, in papers, and my surroundings. Allowing myself to adapt proves to be a difficult task everyday. I can tell myself “I’m ready” as many times as I want, but the voice in the back of my head makes its presence known by stating “maybe you’re not ready.”

         I could never prepare myself for the endless heartbreaks of losing a loved one and having to choose between living without them or living for them. I thought with every phone call, things would get easier because with time things get easier, but the complete opposite happened. I began realizing my circle was getting smaller and smaller; An inevitable heartbreak no one could prepare me for, no matter how easy the idea of death sat with them.

         Family became everything to me four years ago after they banded behind me whenever my world came crashing down. I moved back to my hometown my freshman year, clothes in garbage bags, parents now divorced, with no money, and in my grandma’s basement for half the year. I became comfortable in Curwensville— close to family, an opportunity for me to become closer with my family, an okay job, fun small town traditions like home for the holidays. The closer I got to my family, the less prepared I was to leave or for them to leave the physical world.

         December of 2017, my Great Grandpa Herb passed away and even though he was released on hospice in November, we expected longer. October of 2018, my Pappy Gary passed away and that was extremely unexpected. A heart attack took him from me— from us. August of 2021, my Great Grandma Jeanne passed away. I knew she would soon be gone whenever I had recurring dreams about it, but I was never prepared.

         Life after losing someone you love isn’t easy. I don’t think it’s meant to be easy. I could barely roll out of bed for the weeks following. Even on the anniversaries, I have a hard time rolling out of bed. People told me that I would learn to live without them, but that phrase never settled right with me.

         I don’t remember how this saying came about or how I found it, but one day I decided to live for them and the life they would want me to live, no matter how long or short that would be. I turned that pain, anger, and sadness into happiness and motivation, which can be viewed as abnormal to some people because they expected me to be a mess; I hated that part the most.

         I looked at losing them from another perspective: They knew I was ready to be without them and that they taught me everything I needed to know. Now, I had to trust myself that I had the knowledge and resources to thrive.

         Life doesn’t get easier, but I learned to adapt to my surroundings and properly play out the cards I’ve been dealt; To love my surroundings and the people surrounding me. I’ve learned what it means to appreciate the true meaning of life and to live every moment like it’s my last because life is one big mosaic— beautiful, but made out of so many broken pieces.

Author Bio

My name is Jensen Duke and I am currently a freshman at Susquehanna studying Business management and Spanish as my majors also working on economics as a minor. I am from Grampian, Pennsylvania and graduated from Curwensville Area School District. 

Writing has been a big part of my life since I was in Kindergarten and I’ve won various awards for my pieces, including having one published in a book called “Through Their Eyes.”  

I cannot wait to see what the next four years brings me here at Susquehanna. 


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