What is the difference between "assigned" and "selected"?
In chapter seven, the ceremony of twelve shows everyone in Jonas's class receiving assignments to their appointed careers. Fiona is assigned to serve in the Home of the Old taking care of the elderly. Asher is assigned to work in the recreation department. Instead of college, Fiona and Asher will finish out their teen years going to school, but also learning in their assigned fields of work, like apprentices. After graduating from school, they will continue on for the rest of their lives in their assigned fields.
Jonas, on the other hand, is selected for a special appointment as the Receiver of Memory. This special calling is not only an honor, but he will eventually be an Elder of the community. Elders must be selected, whereas people working in regular jobs are only assigned. It is most likely that Asher and Fiona will not serve as Elders, for instance; but Jonas has been selected for a more important role in the community. The chief elder says it this way:
"Jonas has not been assigned. . . Jonas has been selected. . . Such a selection is very, very rare. . . Our community has only one Receiver. It is he who trains his successor. . . But the Receiver-in-training cannot be observed, cannot be modified. That is stated quite clearly in the rules. He is to be alone, apart, while he is prepared by the current Receiver for the job which is the most honored in our community" (60-61).
Thus, this isn't a run-of-the-mill assignment to just any job. A selection is more important and reserved for someone who is special. For a community who strives for Sameness, they must have one who bears their burdens alone and they take this seriously because the weight of the community's happiness will be placed on his shoulders.
Almost everyone is assigned. To be assigned is to be given your profession. It means that your skills and character have been evaluated by community representatives. When you're assigned, you learn how you'll spend the rest of your life in the community. It is rare to be selected. In this novel, it only happens to Jonas. It means that he's been chosen for a special duty, and that he himself is special. The first makes you a normal part of the community; the second isolates and changes you.