We asked Valerie Light ’22 to reflect on entering the FYS Common Reader Essay Contest in the first weeks of her freshman year.  Honors students are encouraged to enter and are frequently among the prize winners.  Valerie wrote an essay on Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl, the common reader chosen for 2018. Read on for Valerie’s thoughts:

Sitting at my Redding desk with my laptop squeezed between the clutter of my attempted home-feeling decor– picture frames reminding me of Georgia, encouraging notes from family and friends, and so much makeup– I embarked upon my first college assignment. It’s only for completion, I told myself. You get to talk about yourself in the essay, which is a talent of yours (I’m upsettingly comfortable with self-bragging.) I just wanted to get it done for the sake of ripping off the academic Band-Aid and passing UNIV101. 

At the beginning of college, so much is unpredictable and uncontrollable. I did not know anyone at UD coming from an opposite side of the country, I had no clue how I would make new friends, I didn’t know whether I was going to be academically prepared or not, and I barely knew how to do my own laundry– let alone take care of myself 700 miles from home. Reading the summer book was my way of knowing that I had one thing under control— my first assignment of college would be navigable. Being able to know what I was writing my essay about was going to provide me some sort of comfort in such an uncomfortable transition in my life. My roommate and I, who were complete strangers, were able to spend our first awkward days together reading the last few chapters of the book. This shared experience– a book club within the confines of our Redding room that burst with pink fur pillows and more wall art than the walls could support– meant more to me than I would have expected. When I submitted the essay, I had no understanding of what clicking that submit button would have meant to my college experience and my freshman year.

Winning the Common Reader Essay Contest filled me with an overwhelming sense of belonging. Less than a month into my time at Delaware, the University was already investing in me and my education. The scholarship was a special facet of the win; but, what was more important than that was the affirmation that I was academically prepared for the four years ahead of me. Oh, and the ego boost that accompanied the win. That was nice, too. 

This year’s Common Reader is Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented American by Jose Antonio Vargas.  Get reading!  The book is available in paperback as well as an e-book and audio book. 

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