Summer Reading Program

All new students have the opportunity to continue a Mercer tradition of reading Ferrol Sams' The Whisper of the River.  This novel is a work of regional fiction based loosely on the author's experience at Mercer University.  The setting of Willingham University closely mirrors the Mercer University of the 1930s.  Porter Osborne, Jr. leaves his rural Georgia home "to meet the world at Willingham University, armed with the knowledge that he had been 'raised right' in the best Baptist tradition."  Although the book is set more than seventy years ago, many of the issues are still relevant to students entering college today.  The author, Ferrol Sams, was an alumnus of Mercer University.

During Bear Beginnings, first-year students will join their Peer Advisor (PA) and Orientation Group (O-group) to discuss the novel and its implications.  Additionally, conversations in UNV 101 and First Year Friday will allow students to explore the major themes of Porter's experiences.

Summer Reading Essay Contest

First-year students are invited to submit an essay for the First-Year Student Summer Writing Award.  This award recognizes a first-year student's essay selected for its outstanding writing and reflection on Mercer's summer reading, The Whisper of the River, by Ferrol Sams.  A committee comprised of faculty and staff will select the winner.  The winner will receive a gift card to the Mercer University Bookstore, as well as have his or her name added to a plaque of past recipients.

Essay Questions
Please respond to the following questions in a single essay:

  • Porter "meets the world" at Willingham University and is shaped by the events and persons he encounters there.  As an incoming student, how do you hope to grow as a person while at Mercer University?
  • In what ways do you think a Mercer education will allow you to make a contribution to the world?  
  • What contributions do you hope to make?

Submission Information

Please send submissions via e-mail to the Office of Academic and Advising Services>> at

Judging Criteria and 2019 Deadline

Successful essays will include a development of a central thesis, as well as support for all ideas presented.  Grammar, punctuation, and style will be assessed. Essays must be no longer than 1000 words, typed, double-spaced, with 1-inch margins.  The deadline for all entries is Friday, August 2, 2019.