Written by | Dakota Kessler | With Amarillo College undergoing budget cuts in all areas in recent months, the future of the Common Reader program was in doubt. According to college officials, the Common Reader, which began in fall 2008, cost $20,000, and that amount was cut from the budget of Student Affairs, which oversaw the program. At the AC faculty assembly Jan. 29, Dr. Deborah Vess, vice president of academic affairs, announced that the Common Reader will continue under the guidance of her office. Robert Austin,vice president of student affairs said, “The Common Reader is a shared experience for all students, and lots of time and effort have been put into it. This is the first time it’s been threatened to end.” Since its beginning, the program has provided free books to incoming students, with faculty encouraged to use the books in their courses if they wish. The books generally have been fiction or nonfiction works that provide inspiration. The books’ authors visit Amarillo and speak to the campus and community. The 2015-16 Common Reader is Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, a novel about a girl and her family who are uprooted during World War II and sent to Soviet work camps. Courtney Milleson, an assistant professor in the advising department and the Common Reader coordinator, said changes will come to the Common Reader such as tying it to the Presidential Scholars program. She said she and Vess hope to enhance the program and possibly have forums and student activities to get participants engaged in the book. Milleson said faculty members can include the book into their curriculum, with students possibly having to buy their books if professors insert the book into class time. If students were to buy the book, four out of four students polled said they would rather have a paper copy then an ebook or audio version. Through this school year, Common Reader books have been handed out to incoming freshmen at Badger Bootcamp in the fall, and Read more [...]
There are few artists and performers who inspire teenagers to embark on a lengthy bus ride, but for one high school student, it was a black and white decision to make the journey for the author of Between Shades of Gray. Sixteen-year-old Whitney Hamilton traveled 12 hours by bus from her home in Austin to see Amarillo College Common Reader author Ruta Sepetys. “My eighth grade year, when it first came out, it was in the Scholastic Book Fair … and I read the summary and I was like, ‘I want this book,’ but I didn’t have the money for it, so my best friend bought it for my birthday and I read it, and I fell in love with it.” Hamilton said she was reading Sepetys’ website when she discovered the author would be speaking in Texas. Initially Hamilton’s mother was planning to drive her to Amarillo for the author lecture, but the family car broke down and they did not have enough money for repairs. Traveling by bus meant leaving late at night and missing two days of school for the approximately hour-and-a-half long lecture. Hamilton said it was worth every minute of the trip. “The best part was just seeing her and listening to her,” she said. “My teachers told me that she really knows how to talk and explain things, and it literally made my day listening to her.” Hamilton, who attends Westwood High School in Austin, also has read Sepetys’ second novel, Out of the Easy. At the book signing following the lecture, Sepetys gave her a copy of an unpublished galley of her third book, Salt to the Sea, which comes out in February. “Thank you so much for coming so far,” said Sepetys, hugging her young fan and posing with her for pictures. “An author is nothing without readers. This means so much to me.” The other audience members packed into Ordway Hall to attend Sepetys’ lecture may not have traveled as far as Hamilton, but many shared her devotion to the historical fiction author. Mechanical engineering major Mugisha Aime said he was excited to Read more [...]
The author of a New York Times best-selling novel gave a lecture on Amarillo College’s Washington Street campus Oct. 29. Ruta Sepetys is the author of AC’s 2015 Common Reader, Between Shades of Gray. The book tells the story of 15-year-old Lina Vilkas, a Lithuanian artist who is arrested with her mother and younger brother and deported to a death camp in Siberia while her father is arrested separately and sent to a gulag. The story not only chronicles Lina’s fight to survive, it chronicles her fight to retain faith in mankind during the horrors of Joseph Stalin’s reign. At the lecture, Sepetys described how she went on a trip to Lithuania to see her distant family. She asked her family members if they had any photos from her father’s childhood, and they said, “You don’t know, do you?” The family members revealed the hidden history behind her immediate family’s immigration to America. Sepetys’ grandfather was an officer in the Lithuanian military when, in 1940, Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union, occupied Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. In order to fully occupy those countries, the Soviets had to get rid of those nations’ military forces. Sepetys’ grandfather was a high-ranking officer in the Lithuanian military. He was not on the list for deportation; he was on the list for execution with the rest of his family, Sepetys’ grandmother and father. Sepetys said her grandmother had taken her raincoat and had torn out the lining and sewn in the family’s valuables: silver, jewelry, money and the deeds to the property – knowing she was going to be on the list for deportation. One day a friend knocked at their door and said to Sepetys’s grandfather, “I owe you a favor; this is your favor. They (the Soviet secret police are) 20 minutes behind me. You have to flee.” Sepetys’ family fled. Her father never saw his home again. On foot, her family fled through Poland into Austria and finally into Germany. When they arrived in Germany, they Read more [...]
Starting next year, the college may no longer fund the Common Reader program and may need outside funds in order to continue. What are your thoughts about the possible cut? Read more [...]
AC Presidential Scholar Kimber Wilburn shares information about Common Reader author Ruta Sepetys.