Common Reader Program Gets Students ‘Educated’

Photographer: Paul Stuart

The Sam Houston State University’s 2019-2020 common reader is New York Times Bestseller “Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover. The book explores ideas about education, determination, family and taking control of one’s own future.

In her memoir, Westover describes growing up in a Mormon survivalist family in the mountains of Idaho. With virtually no access to the outside world, Westover was 17 when she first stepped into a classroom. Her book recounts how she took control of her own life and education, eventually earning a PhD from Cambridge in 2014.

“This book is relevant on a lot of levels because it is a person who was very unlikely to come to college and had a very interesting childhood,” Director of First-Year Experience and Student Success Initiatives Kay Angrove said. “Really, all of our students have those interesting stories; we just don’t hear all of them.”

The Common Reader book selection committee has been reviewing books since last December. After sorting through more than 100 nominations, “Educated” was chosen as the best fit for this year’s Common Reader.

“There’s some mental health issues in the book, there’s some abuse that happened to her, but the overarching story is about how she overcame that and how she became her own person,” Angrove said.

Designed to “facilitate a campus-wide cross-disciplinary conversation, and enhance the community with students, faculty and staff,” SHSU’s Common Reader Program encourages students and faculty from all areas of the university to explore the themes in this book from their own angle.

“The beauty of it is that when an educator looks at it in their class, they see something different than a historian would looking at it in their class, or than a nutritionist would, or that a health science expert would,” Angrove said. “So that’s why we have the out of class dialogues and events so that conversation can continue across disciplines and across campus.”

Common Reader events this semester include opportunities to exchange dialogue between differing perspectives as well as presentations and scholarship opportunities.

Throughout November, students can participate in the Critical Thinking through Deliberative Dialogues Scholarship Competition, a presentation on self-compassion through the SHSU Counseling Center, a Community Resource Fair, the Fourth Annual Mass Communication Film Festival and many other events.

Additionally, there are several Common Reader scholarships up for grabs throughout the semester. Due throughout October and November, these scholarships provide a platform for students to write about, discuss, and artistically interpret the book their own way.

Throughout the multitude of themes throughout the book, one vital idea stands out: taking control of your own life and education.

“We have to try to bring it to life,” Angrove said. “Let [students] know they’re on a college campus and that you’re here for this short time, you’re never going to have this experience again. Yes, it’s expensive, yes it’s stressful, but it’s amazing if you let it be. If you come here and just check off a box, you missed it.”

The book is available for students to pick up from the First-Year Experience office in Academic Building IV while supplies last.

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