Roanoke College

Summer Assignment for New Students


In late August you will embark on your academic career at Roanoke College. During the four days of new student orientation you will join about fourteen other first-year students in many O-Group Orientation activities, including discussions of the required summer reading.  The purpose of these sessions is to help you get to know the other students in your INQ 110/HNRS 105 seminar and to introduce you to academic life at Roanoke College by demonstrating the kind of thoughtful reading, participation, and analysis that you will engage in throughout your time at the College.   

The theme for this year's discussions is "What does it mean to be an individual within a community?" -a question immediately relevant to you as you enter a new community at Roanoke College. Completing the assignment below will prepare you for the O-Group discussions. Not only should you bring a copy of the readings and two (2) copies of each of your essays to the first O-Group meeting in August, you should also be ready to participate.  This will include contributing orally to discussion and perhaps even reading aloud a portion of your writing assignment!  You should also be ready to contribute to the community of Southwest Virginia during Orientation by helping build R-House, an on-campus Habitat for Humanity project.

Do your best on the essays-they will be given to your INQ 110/HNRS 105 professor as a writing sample.

What's my assignment?

  • Complete-as soon as possible-a brief (10 minute) survey to help create a profile of the community you will be joining:
  • Read thoughtfully and be prepared to discuss the essays in two collections: "Life Lessons Learned from Strangers" (5 essays @ and "The Wisdom of Our Elders" (6 essays @  Use the adjust font feature at the top right to get an easily readable printout (click the largest A 3-4 times).
  • Write a response to one of these essays whose main belief challenges, surprises, or angers you.

    Length & Format: 350 - 500 words in length, double-spaced, typed, printed and ready to turn in at your first O-Group session.

    Identify and briefly describe the belief that is the focus of your chosen essay.

    Explain what aspect of this belief challenges you, surprises you, or angers you and why.

    Formulate a set of questions you have about the validity or value of this belief.  What additional information would you need before you would be ready to adopt this belief into your own worldview?

  • Write your own "This I Believe" essay:  Communities come in varying shapes and sizes, encompassing small groups of friends, closed cliques, athletic teams, extracurricular clubs, religious or civic groups, political parties, local and national governments, and international organizations. Individuals almost always belong to multiple communities at once, and you have probably already participated in a number of these kinds of communities, including some of those listed above. Recall an experience you have had where an action, attitude, or event built encouraged, threatened, or even destroyed a community that you cared about or were a part of.  Based on what you witnessed and learned from that situation, write your own "This I Believe" essay on something you believe has the power to build or threaten a community.


    Length & Format: 350 - 500 words in length, double-spaced, typed, printed and ready to turn in at your first O-Group session.

    Content: "This I Believe" essays are brief explanations of a single, deeply held personal belief.  Don't let the word "belief" throw you; you should focus on a strongly held value, ideal, or conviction-even if you don't always live up to it! Peruse the other essays at to see the wide variety of "beliefs" that others have composed.

    Be personal: This is a personal essay: it should reflect your own convictions and should be written in the first person (use "I"). Don't write about a belief just because you think others will approve of it; spend some time thinking about your own experiences and values, and choose one for your essay topic.   Read your essay aloud several times, and edit it so that it does not come across as pretentious, overly formal, or "trying too hard."  Avoid profanity and excessive slang.

    Be specific; tell a story if possible.  Your essay need not be heartwarming or gut-wrenching - you may write humorously, if you like - but it should be real.  Use a moment or episode in your life that you identify as important as a starting point, but make sure that your essay goes beyond the story and articulates the belief behind the story. 

    Name and explain your belief: If it is difficult to name your belief in a sentence or two, your essay may need more focus.  Avoid creating simply a list of beliefs; concentrate on explaining a single belief that is most important to you.

    Be positive: Focus on what you do believe, not on what you don't.  We encourage you to avoid being "preachy"; write about what makes this belief important to you, not about why you think others should believe the same thing.

    *Guidelines adapted from This I Believe, edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman (New York: Henry Holt, 2006) 272-273.