First-Years Comment on Tara Westover’s “Educated”

NYU asked first-year students to read “Educated” by Tara Westover because of its thematic applicability to the first-year experience.

NYU first-year students were asked to read Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover during the summer. (Staff Photo by Jorene He)

This year, all incoming first-years were asked to read Tara Westover’s memoir, “Educated,” the true story of a woman raised by Mormon survivalists in the mountains of Idaho.

Readers and critics alike have attested to the overall quality of the book, but how did the class of 2023 feel about it? Did they even read it? 

According to NYU Reads, the goal of having an annual required reading is to “prompt students to reflect on their journeys to this point in their lives” and to discuss the new experiences and challenges they expect to encounter at NYU. The hope is that “Educated” will “spark conversation” among students regarding the responsibilities that await them in college. 

Tara Westover and her six older siblings were denied a formal education by their fundamentalist father. He believed that the government used public schooling as an instrument to brainwash children, and thus preferred to keep his own kids distracted by putting them to work either in his scrap yard or stockpiling for the end of the world. Tara first stepped foot in a classroom at the age of 17.

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Several students interviewed over Facebook Messenger reported disliking required readings because they felt forced to read books they weren’t particularly interested in. A first-year who preferred to remain anonymous said that he didn’t read the book because he was simply lazy and “it seemed boring.” Steinhardt sophomore Chenxin Wu said that “required readings over the summer just always bring anxiety.” 

Stern first-year Ankit Jain was likewise unenthused about the prospect of required reading. He did acknowledge a positive aspect, however. 

“It’s nice to have something to talk about with all of my classmates,” Jain said. 

Students who enjoyed “Educated” had a tendency to mention the effect that the book had on their view of education, as well as the story’s relatability. Some said that they were glad that NYU assigned it. 

Liberal Studies first-year Do Young Kim said that the book made him reckon with the privilege of receiving a college education. Along the same line, Stern first-year Brian Cherifi said “Educated” made him challenge his ideas.

“The program succeeded in helping me open up my mind to those who have a thirst for knowledge but have a harder time getting it,” Cherifi said.

Other students focused on the way that the book applies to them on a personal level, as well as to the NYU first-year community as a whole. First-year Nathaniel said the book touched him on a very personal level because of all of the commonalities between Westover’s life and his own. He pointed out similarities such as homeschooling, isolation from other children and “being the odd one out.” He said the book taught him that he was not alone, and he hopes to “find the place I belong, just as Tara Westover found after her time studying.”

Some students simply enjoyed the story without looking for a deeper meaning. 

“I thought the story was interesting,” Gallatin first-year Ellie Ryan said. “I didn’t mind being required to read it.” 

“Educated” may not have been a life-altering read for every first-year, but students generally agreed that it was an appropriate selection to introduce them to college. 

Email Danisbel Herrera at [email protected]

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