The Campus Reading for the 2021-22 academic year will be When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. The selection was chosen by a team of faculty and students.
Published in 2016, the memoir offers readers an intimate look at the profound moments that shaped a young doctor’s life before and after his cancer diagnosis. Through this work, Kalanithi offers his views on achievement, mortality and the meaning of life.
“After a year marked with unprecedented sorrow and loss, our community is now tasked with processing incredibly complex emotional and personal questions, including whether or not we each want to return to ‘normal’ if that means taking things for granted,” Vanessa Beasley, vice provost for academic affairs and dean of residential faculty, said. “When I received this recommendation from the committee, I was immediately struck by my own memories of reading this book. I recalled how beautiful the writing was and how the author’s courage in sharing his story made me think deeply about my own life and its purpose. This book is a wonderful, brave choice for our students.”
First-year students will discuss the work through the Vanderbilt Visions program, and transfer students will engage with the book through informal dialogue facilitated by peer mentors throughout the fall 2021 semester.
“For the upcoming academic year, our programming will emphasize ‘Telling Our Stories’—an effort to both connect students to each other and to offer an opportunity for our community to acknowledge the challenges and hardships that are part of growth and change,” noted Melissa Gresalfi, dean of The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons. “Dr. Kalanithi’s story shares many possible points when his path might have been altered, when a different choice might have led to a different outcome. When Breath Becomes Air offers an opportunity to develop a language to talk about our choices, our challenges and our trajectories through life.”
All first-year and transfer students with a domestic mailing address will receive a physical copy of the book via mail prior to move-in. Students with an international mailing address will receive a digital copy of the book via email.
“We are delighted to make this text available to the incoming Class of 2025 and look forward to all of the discussions that it will provoke not only this year, but for a lifetime,” said Emily Pendergrass, associate professor of the practice of literacy education and the faculty VUceptor who headed this year’s recommendation team.