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October 9, 2019

Award-Winning Author Tara Westover Shares Her Story at Adelphi

On September 24, Dr. Westover shared her story with the University community in the Adelphi University Performing Arts Center. Sponsored by the Pleasures of Reading and Literature Endowment and the College of Arts and Sciences, the event sold out quickly.

Every year, Adelphi Community Reads chooses a book to be given to incoming first-year students, with the rest of the community invited to read it as well. This year, Dr. Westover’s New York Times bestselling Educated: A Memoir was chosen. It won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Memoir & Autobiography and was a finalist for a number of national awards, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award and two National Book Critics Circle awards.

Addressing the first-year students embarking on their own educational journey, Associate Provost for Student Success Peter West, PhD, said, “I hope Dr. Westover’s words will help you see what ideas you’ll encounter at Adelphi.”

Life growing up

Though Dr. Westover’s grandmother was a traditional Mormon woman who, Dr. Westover said, “didn’t think women should have careers,” she was willing to kidnap her granddaughter so she could have one. For as long as Dr. Westover could remember, her dad told her stories about how evil public schools were. She believed her grandmother but chose to stay with her family.

“I couldn’t really imagine any other life except for the one I had,” she said.

Dr. Westover grew up in the mountains of Clifton, Idaho, as the youngest of seven. She and her family spent much time preparing for the end of the world. When she wasn’t stockpiling, she was helping her dad in the junkyard or helping her mom stew herbs. Her family didn’t believe in doctors and used herbs as medical treatment.

As the years passed, her dad grew more radical in his views and pulled her brother, Tyler, out of the eighth grade. This didn’t stop Tyler from learning. He found textbooks and taught himself geometry, algebra, calculus and more. When Tyler introduced Dr. Westover to opera, she knew that no one sang like that without being taught and she wanted to learn—not just music, but more. She followed in her brother’s footsteps and taught herself math, grammar and science so she could go to college.

“You don’t necessarily know where your passions will take you…but you do know that having no passion will probably take you nowhere,” Dr. Westover said. “I think it’s worth taking them seriously.”

And then the world shifted

Dr. Westover was admitted to Brigham Young University at 17. There she studied psychology, politics, philosophy and history, learning for the first time about pivotal world events. In one of her classes, her professor brought up the Holocaust. Unaware of the genocide, Dr. Westover asked what it was, feeling embarrassed after her classmates reacted to her question. When she finally learned the history and impact of the Holocaust, her worldview changed.

“I had lived the first 17 years of my life in a world where the Holocaust never happened. Then it happened all at once, and the world is pretty different when you know about something like that,” said Dr. Westover.

Another event that “happened all at once” for Dr. Westover was the Civil Rights Movement. She shared how she learned about Rosa Parks in an American civics course. She was so astounded by the actual events that it confused her.

“I remember [my professor] said that [Rosa] had been arrested for taking a seat on the bus. I understood her as saying that she was arrested for stealing a seat… . I was still trying to figure out how she managed to get it loose,” she said.

It was learning histories like these that inspired Dr. Westover to earn her PhD in history from the University of Cambridge. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her all over the world, to Harvard, Trinity College and more. In her memoir and in her speech, she shared how her educationless childhood instilled a love for learning that she will always carry with her.

Dr. West highlighted the value in Dr. Westover’s coming-of-age story. “As difficult as these moments are to read, they illustrate when one’s education is mixed with the most essential moments of who we are,” he said. “Our identity, our personal history and sometimes, most painfully of all, our relationships.”


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About Adelphi: A modern metropolitan university with a personalized approach to higher learning

Adelphi University, New York, is a highly awarded, nationally ranked, powerfully connected doctoral research university dedicated to transforming students’ lives through small classes with world-class faculty, hands-on learning and innovative ways to support academic and career success. Adelphi offers exceptional liberal arts and sciences programs and professional training, with particular strength in our Core Four—Arts and Humanities, STEM and Social Sciences, the Business and Education Professions, and Health and Wellness.

Recognized as a Best College by U.S. News & World Report, Adelphi is Long Island’s oldest private coeducational university. It serves almost 8,000 students at its beautiful main campus in Garden City, New York—just 23 miles from New York City’s cultural and internship opportunities—and at dynamic learning hubs in Manhattan, the Hudson Valley and Suffolk County, as well as online. 

More than 116,000 Adelphi graduates have gained the skills to thrive professionally as active, engaged citizens, making their mark on the University, their communities and the world.

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