Dear Cushing Community:
Our all-school Common Reading is a tradition at Cushing that strengthens community bonds and encourages students to grow intellectually through reflection, inquiry, and conversation. In alignment with Cushing's Educational Process, the Common Reading experience challenges our students to discover and develop their personal potential and strengths and will, we hope, prompt individual and community reflection on important essential questions.
The Common Reading Committee worked long and hard to find a compelling story that would challenge us all to achieve a greater understanding of our world and ourselves. We sought an accessible book as our shared text— one that offers a diverse cultural perspective, addresses contemporary social issues, and enhances the intellectual life of the school.
We are happy to announce our Common Reading selection for academic year 2016-2017: In Order To Live by Yeonmi Park. With her father in a labor camp and facing starvation herself, Yeonmi Park risked her life fleeing from her rural home in North Korea to China. Ms. Park’s book is the story of the mistreatment she endured, the impossible decisions she faced, and the strength of spirit that saw her through her experiences with human traffickers.
Ms. Park starts her story with a quote from Joan Didion: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” and this compelling story is told through hushed tones, for as Ms. Park recalls of life in North Korea, “even when you think you’re alone, the birds and mice can hear you whisper.” Describing her escape, Ms. Park writes:
I was thirteen years old and weighed only sixty pounds. Just a week earlier, I’d been in a hospital ... suffering from a severe intestinal infection. I was still in terrible pain from the incision, and was so weak I could barely walk.
I wasn’t dreaming of freedom when I escaped from North Korea. I didn’t even know what it meant to be free. All I knew was that if my family stayed behind, we would probably die—from starvation, from disease, from the inhuman conditions of a prison labor camp. The hunger had become unbearable; I was willing to risk my life for the promise of a bowl of rice.
Yeonmi Park gained international attention as millions of people were captivated by her personal story delivered at One Young World Summit 2014 and spread through social media. Since then, she has worked with several agencies calling for action against human rights abuses in North Korea and around the world.
Surely, our Cushing community will benefit from reading Ms. Park’s story; we deepen our understanding of our world and what it means to be human by approaching an individual’s story with compassion and curiosity. In that spirit, we have organized several events around the book, including three in September 2016:
September 4: During school orientation, faculty will lead small group discussions to prepare for the author’s visit and for students and faculty to get to know each other as we share our experiences with the book.
September 23: Yeonmi Park will visit Cushing Academy to address our community and enjoy dinner with students and faculty that evening.
September 27: During an all-school dinner, we will have discussions around issues raised by Yeonmi Park’s visit with us, working toward potential action plans.
Looking forward to great conversations this fall,
English Department Chair
Common Reading Committee Members:
Nancy Boyle, Cushing Common Reading Committee Chair
Jess Devin, Academic Support Learning Specialist
Maggie Howes, History teacher
Berkeley Gillentine, Classical and Modern Languages Chair
Susan Larkin, Assistant Library Director
Claudia Markey, Library Instruction Associate
Mark Melchior, Library Director