Image result for tara westover's memoir educated

Summer 2024

Dear First-Year Student,

Welcome to Siena College and to the First Year Seminar. The Seminar is a two semester, writing intensive course required of all first-year students. The overall goal of the Seminar is to prepare you for the intellectual life of college:  how to read critically, how to engage with a text, how to articulate an informed position on big questions, how to write clearly and persuasively, how to voice an opinion in a classroom conversation, how to make connections between and among the readings you are doing, the subjects you are studying, as well as between Siena and the outside world. In addition, the Seminar will introduce you to the Franciscan heritage that is unique to Siena.

You will remain with the same faculty member and classmates for both semesters.  In all sections, the themes for the year are those of our Core curriculum. For the first semester, they are:  Heritage and the Natural World; for the second semester, the themes are:  Diversity and Social Justice. Within each theme, there are a few interdisciplinary readings common to all sections of the course. Individual faculty choose the remaining readings and an overall theme to bring coherence to their sections.  The lives and stories of St. Francis and St. Clare are interwoven throughout the year. In addition, a required summer reading offers incoming first-year students a common intellectual experience. 

We have proudly selected Paul Kalinithi's When Breath Becomes Air as the required summer reading for the incoming Class of 2028.  Dr. Kalinithi wrote this critically-acclaimed memoir after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.  Published posthumously, When Breath Becomes Air was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography in 2017 because the nominating jury determined that it is an “elegant memoir… told without a hint of bravado or self-pity.” Readers should bear in mind that though the book covers provocative topics related to mortality, it is firmly centered around the question of how to lead a meaningful life. 

Requirements for the summer assignment:
  • Read the book slowly and thoroughly. 
  • Be ready to speak about the book when you come to class. Study it, mark or highlight what you think are important passages from the text and write down reactions, questions, reflections that you may have.
  • During the first week of class, there will be a written assignment and/or quiz about the book. Please see the Summer Reading Discussion Questions to help you as you read. In August, students should check their Siena email account for a message from their First Year Seminar professor regarding how the questions will be used in class.
Discussion Questions: 
  1. Paul Kalinithi was determined to face death with integrity, and through his book, demystify it for people. Do you think he succeeded? 
  2. What did you think of Kalinithi’s exploration of the relationship between science and faith?
  3. Kalinithi says, “Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete” (172).  What do you think he means?
  4. What did Kalinithi’s decision to return to work reveal about his core values? How would you weigh this decision if you had to make it?
  5. Whose story is this- Paul’s? Lucy’s? Cady’s? All of ours? 
  6. Author Ann Patchett said: “This is one of a handful of books I consider to be a universal donor–I would recommend it to anyone, everyone.”  Do you agree with her?  Why or why not? 
  7. Consider your own experience with loss.  What would you want the legacy of that experience to be?
  8. In your own life, how have you found purpose from pain?  Who/what did you turn to and why?
  9. Why do you think FYS has chosen this particular book at this particular time? 
  10. How does When Breath Become Air relate to your chosen FYS theme?