JSU Goes “Wild”

JSU Goes “Wild”


By Heather Greene 

A long journey, coupled with extreme fatigue, a lack of money and a constant desire for food – sounds like the life of a typical college student, right? Well, it also speaks to the tremendous journey undertaken by author Cheryl Strayed as she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, as told in her novel, “Wild,” the 2015 Summer Read selection at Jacksonville State University.

Each year, JSU chooses one book for all freshmen to read. It is studied in English 101 and in the first-year college experience course, STU 101. Upperclassmen, faculty and staff read it as well. It is required reading by all involved in the Gamecock Orientation (GO!) program. Terry Casey, director of JSU Student Life and chair of the Summer Read committee, explained that the purpose behind the JSU Summer Read program is to bring new students together.

“Our main focus is for all of our students to be able to have something they can talk about, to lead discussions and to have something in common,” Casey said. “Hopefully, within those two courses, the students will have some sort of common interest – whether they like the book or dislike the book or if they think it’s a good book or a bad book. We’re just trying to promote conversation and debate, or dialog.”

It could be said that “Wild” exemplifies many of the troupes of college life, providing freshmen with a story they can relate to. After enduring a divorce, the death of her mother, drug dependency, and the seemingly endless crumbling of her life all around her, Cheryl Strayed set out on a journey of self-discovery in 1995 in an effort to come to terms with her life and find peace. Similarly, freshmen arrive on JSU’s campus each year for orientation, locating their food and lodging and ultimately searching for their career path. Like the protagonist, these freshmen are on the cusp of a journey that will not be accomplished overnight – a journey of self-awareness that culminates in a college degree.

Caelan Goss, a junior economics major and GO! Leader, had the opportunity to be a part of the honors English class that helped choose “Wild” as the Summer Read.

“I knew ‘Wild’ needed to be the summer read when I discovered how brutally honest Strayed is in the book, and that's exactly what I love about it,” Goss said. “We, as a society, aren't used to such honesty, and it's something I thought incoming freshmen needed to experience. Strayed's journey on the Pacific Crest Trail is very similar to an incoming college student's journey ahead of them. They don't exactly know what's coming next, and, just like Strayed did, they need to just immerse themselves in the college atmosphere so they can get as much out of it as they can.”

Amy Tomlinson, a senior accounting major and GO! Leader, said, “The summer read selection and program brings students together by creating a commonality between them. As freshmen, you're jumping into a whole new world with an entirely different group of people. By participating in the summer reading program, students already have something in common. It creates conversations, which can lead to friendships that will help you throughout your college career.”

Like last year’s selection - “The Fault in Our Stars” - “Wild” has also been released as a major motion picture, which could provide even more discussion material for students. Actress Reese Witherspoon was nominated for an Academy Award this year for her portrayal of Cheryl Strayed.

The Summer Read program was created in 2010 and is led by Casey and his graduate assistant, Josh Robinson, as well as Andrea Porter, English; Debra Prickett, English; Gena Christopher, English/Faculty Commons; Brooke Lyon, housing; Emily White, registrar; and Andy Green, admissions. Originally, only the committee selected the book. Last year, however, the committee decided to change up the selection process just a bit. Now, the committee collectively brings various book ideas to the table, selects two finalists, and then lets two English classes read and present on each book, lending a student perspective. 

While JSU freshmen will be reading and discussing “Wild” in their upcoming classes, you can get in on the discussion too by picking up Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and taking a mind’s eye expedition along the Pacific Crest Trail. After all, we are all on our own unique journeys in life!