First-Year Students Read “Educated”

Tara Westover’s 2018 memoir about leaving her Mormon family to get a formal education at college was chosen as the University Honors Program’s Common Reading this fall. Westover’s story of earning a college education without prior schooling marked a relatable and purposeful narrative for SMU’s first-year student readers.

While SMU’s school-wide SMU Reads program has been discontinued, the University Honors Program has kept up the tradition. The books chosen by the program often shed light on social issues or an individual’s story of success. In the case of “Educated,” Westover illustrates her journey outside of her family’s reach to find a sense of self.

“You could call this selfhood many things,” reads the last page of “Educated.” “Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education.”

In “Educated,” Westover follows her life growing up in a Mormon family with parents who struggled with mental health. Westover never participated in public school due to her family’s beliefs. As a result, what little education she had came from her mother’s very basic homeschooling and her studies through textbooks. Despite these challenges, Westover successfully made it to Brigham Young University, where she graduated magna cum laude in 2008. Westover went on to earn a Masters in philosophy in 2009 and a Ph.D. in history in 2014, both from Cambridge.

The Rotunda Scholars Program also encouraged their first-year students to pick up “Educated.” This marks one of the first times that the program has also utilized the Common Reading choice. The book resonated well with students such as Carlie Lara.

“’Educated’ taught me that it’s okay to go beyond your familiar boundaries in order to seek the answers you long for,” said Lara.

For students leaving home for the first time for college, Westover’s story is an empowering one. At a time when many students are striving for lives outside of their parents’ supervision, “Educated” provides a great example of a woman exploring her independence.

“Educated” also closely follows Westover’s interest in the humanities and her growing passion for history. After starting college without having ever heard of the Holocaust, Westover pushed herself to learn as much as she could. She detailed her successes and many setbacks, finishing her self-empowerment story after her thesis, “The Family, Morality, and Social Science in Anglo-American Cooperative Thought, 1813-1890.”

Her story is especially poignant for SMU students entering the humanities, an area not necessarily the most popular career choice. At a school well-known for its business programs, a liberal arts curriculum is not always the most celebrated. However, Westover’s book highlights her passion for history and social sciences and her push for success in these areas.

“I really liked the choice as Common Reading because it ties straight back into why we all made the choice to continue our education into university as well as the importance of a liberal arts education,” said first-year student Rachel Mannon.