• Sarah K. Hammer


Updated: Mar 3, 2020

by Tara Westover

The unforgettable story of survival, perseverance, and the power of education.

Buy the book here:

'EDUCATED is an unforgettable memoir about a young girl who kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a Ph.D. from Cambridge University.'

Higher education is important to me because, like Tara, attending university in a large city after being raised in a small town completely changed my life perspective and trajectory.

Not only that, but I am currently in a Master of Education program at Clemson University. I am two months away from graduating with a degree and practical experience to pursue a career in Higher Education.

Throughout the last year, I have heard Educated talked about in many different spaces.

I first heard about it in one of the fitness classes I coach. One of the participants was talking to our class about Educated. The participants decided to organize a book club in order to read and discuss the book.

Then I started seeing it being posted about by my friends online. Whenever someone asked for book suggestions, Educated, was at the top of the list.

To top it all off, Educated is required for one of the final projects in my graduate program. Our assignment is to read, analyze and discuss the book, then present how we can better serve students on a college campus by understanding Tara's story.

Higher Education is more than just what is found in your textbooks.

"First find out what you’re capable of, then decide who you are.”

Tara's university experience was more than just what she was learning in her textbooks. That is the beauty of Higher Education.

My graduate program teaches Student Development Theory, Counseling and Social Justice. In order for students to succeed, college administrators must understand students entering colleges and universities are coming with a wide variety of lived experiences.

As I prepare to serve students in this capacity, I think back on my own experience transitioning to the University of Utah my freshmen year.

I thrived in high school and got great grades. When I struggled academically my first year, I wish I had more patience with myself and the learning process. I took the advice of Orientation Leaders to go to office hours, sit at the front of the class and introduce myself to my classmates. Those tactics helped me have a support system while I worked through the material I was studying.

I got involved in every campus organization I could. Coming from a small town, being involved helped me create community at a large institution. It helped me feel less intimidated by the number of students I passed on campus every day. (The University of Utah has around 32,000 students.)

Graduate school was an even more difficult transition. I relate to the emotions expressed by Tara in her memoir. I moved across the country, away from friends and family to a small town in the south eastern United States. I experienced culture shock, loneliness and I began to explore a lifestyle so unfamiliar, I felt like I wasn’t myself anymore.

The advice given to Tara by her Cambridge PHD advisor struck a chord with me. "First find out what you're capable of, then decide who you are."

Like Tara, I have had an internal battle going on in my heart and my mind about which parts of my upbringing I want to cling to and which parts I'm willing to let go. This book helped me realize I need to focus on my studies, my work and the joy I find I in exploring others' perspectives.

Tara's story hit close to home. I am only a few years younger than Tara, I grew up 40 miles south of her home in Idaho. My dad raised my older siblings in Malad, one of the places mentioned in Educated where Tara's dad and brothers found work.

Reading her describe her internal battles with the ideas she was raised to believe are similar to the battles I am currently struggling to break down. I fight with myself constantly to balance the narrative I was told embody as a Mormon woman and the what I believe is best for me. Some of them align, but many conflict. I’ve done lots of work to distance myself from some negative feelings about my family and the small town I grew up. Reading Tara's story was very difficult for me. It brought up a lot of emotions I have been suppressing for decades.

It’s interesting to see how much Higher Education changed Tara's life. That is where I am and what I’m working through. I struggle every day thinking God is upset with how I’m living, fearing the last days and not being “holy enough” I kick myself with should statements. "I should be this", and "I should be doing that".

I do know education has changed my life and what I am learning is helping me be a more understanding loving and accepting human.

xoxo, SK

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