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Common Reading 2023: Summer Assignment [required]

Summer Writing Assignment: Learning from Failure

In a short personal narrative, write about a time when you feel like you failed. Maybe you didn’t do as well as you wanted to on a big exam. Maybe you missed a game-winning goal. Maybe you thought that you didn’t live up to someone’s expectations. Reflect on this failure and, using one or more of the texts within the anthology, write about what you learned from this experience. You can use the following questions as a guide, but feel free to explore other ideas.

  • Are there certain types of failures that everyone should experience? What knowledge is gained from these failures?

  • How have you changed because of your experience(s) with failure?

  • Are there any instances of “failure” that you don’t agree with? Why should we not view them as failures?

As you write, draw connections between your experiences and texts in the anthology and share how your experience(s) with learning from failure are reflected, or not, in this 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 solely rely on text or could incorporate drawings and photographs. There’s only 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.

For examples of how others have completed the summer assignment, see below.

Renewal Contest Winner: Emma Ritter

Emma Ritter 

Cycles: The Love Affair Between the Good and the Bad 


The intimidation, yet anticipation, of a blank page lying before me is the strongest sense of renewal in my life. At any point in time, I can unlatch my green leather notebook and renew myself in the shapes my pen dances onto the pages begging to be attended to. My curser currently flashing in stark contrast against the blue light keeping me up tonight is my driving force into the chapter of my life where every first impression is a grand act of renewal. Pages before me tell my stories of starting anew, some ending in heartbreak, others in tears of joy, but all teaching me lessons to go about life with a fearless embrace of change. 

Momentous changes are scary because their outcomes are predicted to be extremes of either good or bad. The start of college, one of the biggest and hardest changes, lies before every student typing similar words to mine all stringing along and expanding themes of renewal. Our fears stem from the most extreme forms such as spiritual renewal dawning after the end of the world, but Meade’s Why the World Doesn’t End reassures this feeling with the reinstatement of cycles. Heartbreak may come crashing down in a storm with deafening claps of thunder, but the rain still wipes the evidence once brought to life, and thus births a new chapter. The idea of renewal is often caught up in the fresh starts of phoenixes rising above when they would never have come to be without the crashing, burning, and ending humanity hates to face. To be renewed is to accept the apocalypse towering down because “sometimes the only place to begin is at the end” (2). By accepting the end, we can finally embrace renewal for not just the heartbreak, but also for tears propelled by immense joy.  

Thinking back on the times in my life when I stood on the cliffside looking down at the millions of outcomes my next few steps could entail, I was clicking the post button on the pictures of me holding a pride flag for the very first time, opening my email during my break on my usual Tuesday night shift to a decision letter from my dream school and publishing those poems on my blog even when everybody knew whom they were about. All these pivotal moments could have crashed and burned like I half expected them to, although their beginnings opened doors for me to be my most authentic self, which the thought of is currently bringing wells of cathartic tears to sit upon my waterline but not yet fall. In this period of stillness stuck between the black or white outcomes destined to prevail themselves soon, I relish in the greyscale world where possibilities are still endless and “hope still perches in my soul” (Dickinson). That Instagram post I almost discarded still reigns as my most liked even two years later as my openness with my sexuality has allowed me to surround myself with like-minded people and given me the opportunities to inspire others who have not yet crossed that bridge. That email I opened with the most anticipation of my life while at work of all places, rained confetti across my screen before I could even see the words of acceptance or scholarship award. My blog has become not only an outlet for my creative work but flourished into a space for individuals across the world to inspire each other by sharing a piece of their minds, hearts, and souls. All these moments stuck in the grey after seeing nothing but the end of a chapter, a new door opened and led me to exactly where I am today, being exactly who I have always aspired to be. 

Life as I know it would not be the same if I had not succeeded in the aspects most important to me, but my failures have renewed me more than ever imagined, making me the strongest version of myself. Failure is not often a goal one aims for although Allison D. Carr tells us “Failure is not an Option” and that “failure should be welcomed [as it signals] the presence of creative risky thinking and an opportunity to explore a new direction” (18). In the past, tears have been the result of many of my failures, and they still are on occasion, while I have been more consciously adapting this same mindset as Carr with growing age and experience. My parents were disappointed when I did not receive more scholarship money considering the amount I applied for, but I simply accepted it and considered my other options for making up the money to pay for school instead of giving into their guilt. This failure propelled me into finding a campus job in the library my first semester which is actually helping me advance in this new academic and social world faster than to be expected. More programs are available to me, and I feel as though I have an upper hand with resources that otherwise would have been neglected, so I am thankful for my failures which have renewed me. I am destined to fail within the next four years here at Susquehanna University and I honestly cannot wait to see what doors these failures open after the earlier hit me on the way out.  

Coming into college, a new setting in an infinite number of regards, with having absorbed the common reading, Renewal, I feel as though I know how to better navigate the new experiences destined to find their way to me. Within this essay itself, I have renewed myself in reflection of my past cycles and failures which have caused me to grow into this version that is sprawling itself across the paper before my reader. 

​​Works Cited​ 

Free Poem Analysis. 2016. Hope is the Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson Analysis. [online] Available at: < emily-dickinson-poem-analysis/> [Accessed 8 May 2016]. 

Renewal. Susquehanna University, 2022. 


Renewal Contest Winner: Mackenzi Salinas Trejo

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

At six years old, I had my first job. I filled my father’s cooler with beverages, loaded it in my mother’s minivan, and accompanied her to the only source of income that we had: selling food. I wore my sparkly gray fanny pack and sold ice cold water on the curb of construction sites. I spent hours standing outside in the 90 degree weather, attracting customers to the aroma of tamales, pozole, chilaquiles, and huevos rancheros - the tastes of my childhood. This was my first glimpse into the world of entrepreneurship, but also a steady reminder of the realities of growing up with undocumented parents. 

At seven years old, I was a “professional” translator. I remember being called down to the dinner table and struggling to read words like “Assembly Packaging Operator” and “Financial Aid”. It took time, but I always prevailed. I answered phone calls, always imagining how the other person felt discussing payment plans, job opportunities, and medical appointments with a second grader. I thought all kids accompanied their mothers to the hospital to speak to doctors and read medical records. I did not mind helping my parents, however I always felt ashamed of my language due to stares and looks I would get from other peers. For some time, I wished for lighter skin, I wished for sky blue eyes, and wished I was not embarrassed of my culture and background. Though being bilingual gave me a sense of autonomy and pride, it also secretly felt like a burden to carry. 

By the time I was ten, my priorities consisted of school, robotics club, and helping my mother clean houses. My parents tirelessly worked to provide for us and to give my siblings and I opportunities that they themselves never had. None of us took education for granted. Their version of the “American dream” was buying a little house by a river, with a porch and a mailbox. But growing up in an inner city, that dream has always seemed a distant illusion. I have witnessed gun violence and discrimmination. I have seen close friends abandon their abusive families and turn to gangs and drugs for acceptance and comfort. One New Year's Day, we found eight bullets lodged inside the seats of our family van.  

My experiences within this community made me realize many things. For starters, I 

longed for a new beginning. A place where all individuals from different backgrounds could feel accepted. A place where traumatic experiences could be treated and turned into an aspiration to spread love and unity. Secondly, I no longer wanted to hide in the shadows. As said by Josue Rivas in this year’s Common Reading, “Because all living and dead things are connected, my healing and being able to live well honors not just my ancestors, but also the future generations”(Renewal,70). I strived to honor who I was and learn to appreciate my Mexican Heritage. Not only did I want to embrace my rich culture and identity, but I wanted to use it as a way to renew my healing and lay a path for future generations.  

Four years ago, this longing for a safer community inspired my siblings and I to start an after school dance program for youth in our city. We took our years of experience in Mexican folk dance and proudly shared the beauty of our culture with younger students. Hoping to get kids off the street, we found some churches that would let us use their space and averaged around twelve students at a time. This local dance group performed at festivals, churches, and community events. After organizing, fundraising, and recruiting - it was fun to see my dream become a reality. 

Though I long ago traded in my sparkly gray fanny pack, I will forever carry with me the life lessons and I have learned from my past. My father always said: “To know where you are going, you must know where you come from.” My Mexican heritage is what grounds me and influences me to live the dream of becoming something greater than myself. Who knows? Maybe one day I will stand on my mother’s porch and look out over the beautiful waters of a babbling brook. 

Renewal Contest Winner: Sarah Richards

A New Chapter

The word "renewal" is a word that seems straightforward, something that is uniform in the world of words… but it's not. When I learned that the theme for the class of 2026 was "renewal," I thought to myself, "Okay, so renewal is when something old is modified to become better." Little did I know, my scope of view was narrow and lacked introspection. After reading the anthology, I have concluded that renewal is a spectrum; there are times of gradual indistinct renewal, moderate renewal, and noteworthy renewal.

As seen in "Instructions on Not Giving Up" by Ada Limón, the changing of the seasons happens in front of our eyes each year; it is an understanding that we all have but refrain from dwelling on because it is inconsequential to most of us. In, "I Am a Future Ancestor" by Josué Rivas, his work focuses on his dissent from the common saying, "you parent like your parents parented," and how he transformed his childhood experiences into motivation to be a better father. A turning point in history for many, "Free (Steamboat) Willie: How Walt Disney's Original Mouse Could be Entering the Public Domain" by Jacob Douglas explains how the beloved Disney character is going to be available for artists all over the world to use and alter starting in 2024. As you may notice, all of these works contain renewal as the central theme, but by contrast, they all emit the message to different extents. Similarly, events in our lives do the same. 

My understanding of renewal began a few months ago when I stepped into my high school auditorium, surprised to see my entire class gathered for the first time in two years. "What a sight," my principal cheerfully remarked. I had to agree with him. Only by seeing the faces of my many teammates, class partners, and gym class buddies did I remember the myriad of memories I had with them. Absorbed in the to-do lists of everyday life, I had forgotten the people who had once been one of the most integral parts of my day. They shaped me by helping me learn how to be in a friendship, deal with relationship conflicts, and interact with my peers; i.e., they were the driving forces behind my everyday renewal.

The years of looking forward to college and dedicating my high school career to preparing for upcoming endeavors seemed clouded by this newly founded nostalgia. The reality was sinking in. I had a couple of weeks left with the people who had been in my life for as long as I could remember. In "The Story of Apocalypse" by Michael J. Meade, there is an emphasis on the notion that when something ends, uncertainty arises; this idea of the unknown has caused humanity to delve deep into their most catastrophic theories of the future. Suddenly, an uneasiness fell over me. I'd have to meet a new class, make new friends, live in a new environment, and adjust to a new learning system. In retrospect, I was experiencing renewal to a new degree by mentally preparing for the changes ahead.

Finally, graduation came, and "Pomp and Circumstance" started playing; as in the waters that Noah and Utnapishtim faced, I felt as though my mind was flooding with melancholy (Meade 7). As I prepared to walk across the stage, I pulled myself back into the moment. My feet felt heavy with every step I took across the stage; knowing this was the end of something that seemed everlasting. Once I reached my seat again,  I heard my principal announce, "the class of 2022 is now graduated." With those words, my sadness subsided, and my excitement for the future returned. With my diploma in hand, I crossed onto the dry land of the "sacred mountain," as in the story of Utnapishtim. The conclusion of graduation meant one chapter of my life had ended, and a new chapter began. For me, this was the ultimate scene of renewal.

Works Cited

Douglas, Jacob. "Free (Steamboat) Willie: How Walt Disney’s Original Mouse Could be Entering the Public Domain.”Renewal Susquehanna CommonRead.E dited by Hannah Mackey, et al., 2022-2023 ed., ITE, 2022, pp. 142-48.

Limón, Ada.“Instructions on Not Giving Up.”RenewalSusquehanna Common Read.Edited by Hannah Mackey, et al., 2022-2023 ed., ITE, 2022, p.16. Meade, Michael.”Why the World Doesn't End: Tales of Renewal in Times of Loss.” Renewal Susquehanna Common Read. Edited by Hannah Mackey,et al., 2022-2023 ed., ITE, 2022, pp. 2-13.

Rivas, Josué."I Am a Future Ancestor.”Renewal SusquehannaCommon Read.Edited by Hannah Mackey, et al., 2022-2023 ed., ITE, 2022, pp. 2-13. pp. 70-74.


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