The Common Reading Program book for the Class of 2020 and transfer students entering in Fall 2016 is Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America, by Roberto G. Gonzales.

About the Book

Over two million of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants have lived in the United States since childhood. Due to a broken immigration system, they grow up to uncertain futures. In Lives in Limbo, Roberto G. Gonzales introduces us to two groups: the college-goers, like Ricardo, who had good grades and a strong network of community support that propelled him to college and DREAM Act organizing, but still landed in a factory job a few short years after graduation; and the early-exiters, like Gabriel, who failed to make meaningful connections in high school and started navigating dead-end jobs, immigration checkpoints, and a world narrowly circumscribed by legal limitations. This vivid ethnography explores why highly educated undocumented youth share similar work and life outcomes with their less-educated peers, despite the fact that higher education is touted as the path to integration and success in America. Mining the results of an extraordinary 12-year study that followed 150 undocumented young adults in Los Angeles, Lives in Limbo exposes the failures of a system that integrates children into K-12 schools but ultimately denies them the rewards of their labor.

The Common Reading Program is sponsored by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate and Graduate Students.

Class of 2020 Common Reading Essay Contest

All entering undergraduates are invited to submit an essay addressing one of the following topics related to the Common Reading book:


In Lives in Limbo, Gonzales defines liminality as “the ambiguous space individuals occupy as they move from one key point in their lives to the next.” What are some of the challenges that undocumented young people face in having an indefinite liminal legal status? What were strategies used to address or cope with this uncertainty?


How does Lives in Limbo complicate the idea of education as what Horace Mann called “the great equalizer of the conditions of men”? How were the experiences of early-exiters and college-goers impacted by immigration law and educational policies?

Active Citizenship 

A goal of Tisch College is to produce “committed community leaders who will take an active role in addressing the core problems of society throughout their lifetimes, whatever professions they may choose.” How does this goal relate to Lives in Limbo? What core problems of society are explored in the book and need to be addressed?

Submission guidelines

Essays must be submitted to by 5:00 p.m. on August 15, 2016. Winners will be announced at the Illumination Ceremony during Orientation. Winning essays will be posted online and the authors will receive a gift card to the Tufts Bookstore.

  • Essays must be 500-750 words in length and demonstrate engagement with the common reading text
  • The top of your submission should list your full name and email address
  • Please put the full text of the question you are answering at the top of your essay
  • The conclusion of your essay must include this statement: I affirm that the entirety of this essay is my original work. I agree that this submission may be posted on Tufts University websites, to be publicly viewable.

Tufts faculty and staff will evaluate your submission on the following criteria: engagement with the common reading text, content, organization, argumentation, language and voice. Review the full evaluation rubric below:













Engagement with the common reading text


Response includes and integrates specific examples from the common reading text.


Response includes themes from the common reading text but no specific examples.


Response does not include any connection to the common reading text.




The position is richly supported with valid points of argument. Each point of argument is well-developed with accurate, relevant evidence.


The position is adequately supported with valid points of argument. A key point is vague or missing


The position is minimally supported. Most key points are vague or missing




Response is unified maintains focus and demonstrates a progression of ideas and supporting details


The response is somewhat focused. Minor digressions are present and some supporting details are out of sequence.


Response is not focused on a central position or idea.


Language & Voice


Language is engaging, precise and appropriate for audience and purpose. Ideas are addressed fluidly, with meaningful transitions.


Language adequately expresses ideas. Writing is understandable and includes some transition words or phrases.


Word choice is confusing or inaccurate; ideas are not completely expressed through language choices. Transition words are missing, and there are abrupt shifts in ideas.




Response communicates a clear, thoughtful, well-developed persuasive position that engages the reader.


Response communicates an adequately developed persuasive position. Position is stated in general terms.


Response does not include a clear position statement.

About the Common Reading Program

The Common Reading Program gives all incoming first-year and transfer students a shared intellectual experience to kick off their Tufts experience. Each year, a committee of students, faculty and staff selects a book for all incoming Jumbos to read. The goal is to foster conversation and engender a sense of community to help ease the transition to college life. The Common Reading Program is sponsored by Tisch College of Civic Life and the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate and Graduate Students.

Students will receive a copy of the selected Common Reading Book to your home address in the end of June. Please read the book before you arrive at Tufts and be ready to talk about it with your fellow students, orientation leaders, and advisors.

For More Information

Contact Robert Mack, Associate Dean for Student Success and Advising