Common Reading Program

Members of the Class of 2027 should read Learning from Failure: Susquehanna University Common Reading Anthology 2023–2024 and complete the summer assignment before arriving on campus (instructions below). Here is a glimpse of some of what you will find in the anthology:

  • A short fiction piece, “All of Nothing Else Ever. Ever Tried. Ever Failed,” written by SU’s own Dr. Silas Zobal Dent, a Creative Writing professor. Zobal’s piece explores his failure to capture his true emotions and experiences with death through his writing.
  • A scholarly article by Medina Williams, delving into Elizabeth Holmes’ disastrous Theranos project and the ethical failures that allowed it to happen.
  • An excerpt from Elsa Sjunneson’s memoir Being Seen, detailing her experiences with internalized and externalized ableism because of her deafblindness.
  • A book chapter from Stuart Firestein’s Failure: Why Science is So Successful, outlining how failure is integral to the scientific process.
  • A whimsical poem by Matthew Olzmann, reminding the audience that rodeo clown, water slide tester and tightrope walker are viable career paths in a society that pushes doctors, lawyers and investment bankers.

The Learning from Failure anthology will be mailed home to students over the summer. International students will receive a copy when they arrive on campus.

Important Links

Instructions for First-Year Students

The Common Reading summer assignment is meant to help you connect with your First Year Seminar professor, your peers and the campus at large. You will turn it into your First Year Seminar (or Global Business Perspectives, Honors Thought, Living Learning Community) instructor at the beginning of the term. All students are also invited to submit their works to the Common Reading Program summer assignment contest. Contest winners will be featured in the Reading and Teaching Guide and receive a prize package with goodies from various clubs and organizations on our campus!


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 or 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 and instructions on how to enter the Summer Assignment Contest, visit the Reading and Teaching Guide, or follow us on Instagram @sucommonreading.

About the Program and Theme

The tradition of selecting a year-long university theme began at Susquehanna University in 2003 with the purpose of creating opportunities for diverse members of the community to develop dialogue around a central idea or question. Past themes have included key words such as “adaptability,” “conflict,” “humor,” “memory,” and “water,” and have brought these ideas and more to the center of conversation and exploration at the university.

Faculty, staff, and students involved in the Common Reading Program create a new book each year that centers on the university theme chosen. Stories, poems, essays, reports, scholarly articles, and other texts appear alongside introductions written by members of the SU community. The anthology is used in a variety of ways during students’ first semester on campus, including during Welcome Week and in classrooms. Our online Reading and Teaching Guide offers additional means of interacting with the materials.

We hope the Common Reading Program will engage you in lively conversations and challenge you to think critically. It is an introduction to life in a community of learners, where we all participate in discussion and reflection on texts and ideas. We invite you to explore the various theme-based events and activities that occur throughout the academic year.

2023–2024 Theme: Learning from Failure

“We all fail - it’s not a matter of If, but When. But the fact that we fail is not all that important (or interesting). It’s much more important what our attitudes towards failure and our response to it are.” — Peter Dadalt, assistant professor of finance and analytics

Failure is inevitable. It is a regularly occurring part of the human experience: we fail as we learn new skills; we fail as we develop new tools; we fail as we strive to attain goals. The tradition of failure as a human accomplishment is well reflected in our history and values. Most US children are familiar with the adage “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” coined by Thomas H. Palmer in his 1840 Teacher’s Manual, and most of us can recite a list of famous flops who later hit the big time. Thomas Edison is reported to have failed 1,000 times to create a working lightbulb. Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected by 30 publishers before going on to be one of his bestselling works. Before she was crowned Queen B, Beyonce Knowles’ first musical group Girls Thyme lost Star Search.

But even as we know failure is an expected and important part of human growth and development, failure sometimes feels like the worst-case scenario—something to avoid at all costs. We fear that failure will strand us, embarrass us, delay us, or ruin us. In SU’s Common Reading Anthology “Learning from Failure,” we aim to unravel failure from fear and stigma to demonstrate the ways that failure leads to growth, development, flexibility, and innovation. We hope to showcase failures that became successes; failures that taught us about ourselves or others; failures that changed us. We acknowledge the challenges of failure, living with loss, coping with setbacks, and letting go of what we hoped might be.

This year’s theme of Learning from Failure was nominated by Peter Dadalt, an Assistant professor of Finance and Analytics at SU.