First-year weighs in on First Engagements

First-year Perspectives

by Sarah Allison
Guest Columnist/Staff

Did you spend your summer reading novels by the pool or enjoying that last sip of lemonade? My summer was spent on something both educational and entertaining.

First Engagements is an annual book discussion centered around a volume chosen by the administration, faculty and a few upperclassmen for the first-years to read. First Engagements has had a history of intriguing volumes and this year’s title was no exception.

The class of 2015’s book was “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” written by New York Times best-selling author Rebecca Skloot.

The basic story is about a woman whose cells were taken without her knowledge; after she died the scientists realized that her cancer cells were immortal and used them throughout the world to help cure disease. The book is filled with the issues of bioethics and the question of where the soul goes after death.

Class discussion between faculty, student orientation leaders and other students created a learning environment of understanding and civil discourse. It brought up many issues that relate to today’s society.

Participating in First Engagements was an eye-opening experience for me, and my first taste of college.
When I received the book at my summer orientation and registration, I started reading it that night and couldn’t put it down. Many important issues were discussed in the book, and these made me better aware of bioethical topics.

It was a book that held an interest to anyone, from the science personality to the bookworm well-versed in the humanities. It gave people a voice not often heard of and a story that was unknown besides the four-letter abbreviation of HeLa. It gave me a new perspective to think of the backstory of a product rather than just assuming the product always existed.

It was a humanistic book in the sense that Lacks was made famous because of what she gave unknowingly. Midway through the book you began seeing a woman appear instead of a cell. The irony of the book is that Lacks’ family can’t afford basic medical attention.

Themes found in “The Immortal Life” pertained to a liberal arts mindset because of the foundations the book held. The book makes you question everything, and society itself is reflected in it.

Does the patient have the right to his or her own tissue, does the social economic state of a person affect the way that he or she receives treatment, or does having your faith tested prove that anyone can overcome?

The author proves herself that she could accomplish much, but it takes time and trust for anything you want to achieve. The book held a poetic justice but served more as a memoir of Rebecca Skloot and the journey that she took to find this information than as one of Lacks herself.

Despite being a memoir, it made me to think differently and not take so much for granted. Being a part of First Engagements broadens the mindset of an incoming first-year. Reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” is just the beginning of many books that I will indulge in, but it marks the beginning of my liberal arts education. This experience proves that Transylvania University offers a multifaceted and diverse community of learning.


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