Using This I Believe in Common Reading Programs


The practice of assigning students “common reading”—asking them to read the same book simultaneously—has gained popularity in recent years as secondary schools, colleges, and universities have sought new ways to enrich the campus experience. Like similar public reading initiatives sponsored by cities, libraries, and television shows, educational common reading programs rest on a simple idea: that reading the same book brings people closer together as a community by creating common ground for discussion.

This I Believe books provide rich opportunities for students engaged in a common reading program. Reading a collection of This I Believe essays:

• encourages students to read beyond textbooks.
• enriches the campus community through exploration of personal values and beliefs.
• raises awareness and tolerance of intergenerational and cultural likenesses and differences.
• promotes civic discourse and critical thinking.
• increases student-to-student interaction.
• integrates an academic and social experience into the campus community.
• appeals to both males and females.
• has potential for strong programming opportunities, engaging a wide range of departments and campus communities.

To date, more than 75 colleges, universities, and high schools across America have engaged in major activities built around This I Believe, often using one of our books as common readers. Here are highlights of how some colleges and universities have utilized This I Believe on their campuses in unique ways:

  • At Ohio State University, one of the largest student groups, The Ohio Staters, organized a This I Believe essay-writing contest among the student body, inspired by our This I Believe book, called Buckeyes are Believin’ (sic). They encouraged fellow students to read the This I Believe book, brought This I Believe executive director Dan Gediman to campus to speak, engaged This I Believe to create an internet portal for student essay submissions, and then organized a committee of students and faculty to read through the essays and choose the best of them to feature in a book commemorating the initiative, also called Buckeyes are Believin’. Another innovative aspect of their This I Believe project was choreographing a huge flash-mob performance of the Journey song Don’t Stop Believing, which they then posted on YouTube and has since become a viral phenomenon. Click here to see the video.

  • In honor of its 140th anniversary, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh invited alumni nationwide to participate in its 2011 campus-wide This I Believe events. Essays were collected from alumni separate from those of current students, and were disseminated through the alumni magazine, a book of collected essays, and recordings that were broadcast on the campus radio station. Click here to learn more.

  • The University of California at Davis engaged students and staff, as well as alumni and local citizens in a This I Believe-inspired project called “My Personal Compass.” From 2005 to 2007, the campus-wide initiative encouraged thoughtful and respectful sharing of philosophical, spiritual, political, or civic beliefs by collecting and sharing essays.

  • The University of Central Arkansas, Honors College faculty, with the help of about a dozen upperclass students and another dozen alumni, took the entire freshman class off campus for a weekend retreat. Readings and writings of This I Believe essays were the highlight of the retreat. This retreat was inspired by one the previous summer engaging alumni in the same exercise.

  • For two consecutive years, incoming students at Bowling Green State University used This I Believe as their Common Reading Experience for incoming freshmen. The BGSU Honors Program was inspired to also take part in the common reading, and also asked Honors faculty and students of all levels and majors to participate. Students, along with faculty and administrators in the Honors Program, were invited to write an essay of their own, sharing the personal philosophies and core values that guide their daily lives. Fourteen of these essays were chosen for publication in a book, edited and published by the Honors College. The book was co-edited by faculty members in the General Studies Writing Program, who also contributed essays.

  • At Florida State University, all first-year students read the book This I Believe after receiving a copy at orientation. FSU President Eric Barron gave the Convocation address to some 6,100 incoming students, centering his remarks on the “This I Believe” book and project. Discussions, course assignments, and other activities through the academic year centered around the book’s themes.

  • Kent State chose to read This I Believe for their Summer Reading Program for two years in a row. The Summer Reading Program provides common ground for students to share with their peers, faculty, and community members in order to ease the transition to university life.

  • Aquinas College (Grand Rapids, Mich.) invited incoming first-year students, current students, alumni, faculty, staff, and parents to read This I Believe. The Common Reading Experience program complements their belief that a vital campus encourages all its members to engage in intellectual and philosophical conversations.

  • With funding from the Lilly Endowment, the campus of Davidson College engaged in a year of This I Believe activities geared toward the exploration of how values and beliefs inform vocational choices. Activities included an alumni seminar, a faculty/staff panel presentation, writing workshops, essay recordings that aired on the local public radio station, a Religion 101 class focused on This I Believe, and the publication of a literary magazine with the theme of “This I Believe.”

  • At Penn State University, the campus radio station, WPSU-FM, and newspaper, The Centre Daily Times have for the past several years collaborated on a project where they broadcast/publish a weekly This I Believe essay. This has been a highly successful town-gown project that has over the years featured essays from students, faculty, staff, and people from the surrounding community in Central Pennsylvania.

Click here to see a list of schools that have used This I Believe books as a common read.


Get This I Believe, Inc., Involved in Your Campus Activities

This I Believe can help with many facets of your This I Believe campus-related activities. Contact us to request desk copies of any of our books.

Visit our Shop to download a copy of the This I Believe College Curriculum.

Contact us about creating a customized essay submission portal, where This I Believe will review your campus’s essays and post them in an online platform.

A speaking engagement with Dan Gediman is a unique way to engage students after having read This I Believe, This I Believe II, or This I Believe: Life Lessons.  Please contact us for more information.

Here is an example of one of Dan’s speeches, when he was the keynote speaker at iFest 2008 in Barcelona, Spain.