Notes from 'Educated: A Memoir'

Flee as a bird to your mountain.


This book is a true story of how a young woman grew up living off-the-grid, with no birth certificate or education, in a violent, mentally unstable, survivalist family, and found her own way, step by jagged step, to a Ph.D. at Cambridge University.


The special childhood experience made Tara different from everyone else in Cambridge. Part of her will always belong to the mountain back home, and another part of her is destined to fly like a bird to her own mountain.

Education gives Tara a new perspective on how her family sees the world, a new view of her father’s gaslighting, her mother’s cowardice, and her brother Shawn’s violence.

She courageously resisted her family’s opposition and obstacles to her education, grew in her education and freed herself from gaslighting. As Tara said: “You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education.”


Tara’s experience was full of trauma and struggle. Putting those feelings aside, I prefer to get some energy from a positive perspective as the following.

  1. The power of role models

    Tara’s older brother, Tyler, was the first child who left home, went to university and got his Ph.D. He proved himself, enlightened and encouraged Tara to enter the university. He is a role model for Tara.

    Tara’s other brother, Richard, also stepped into university after her and got his Ph.D. In a family with seven children, three have PhDs, while the other four didn’t even go to high school. It is the power of role models.

  2. The wealth of suffering

    Tara’s hardships were instead transformed into an asset, valuable material for her dissertation research, which won her professors’ favor and led to her subsequent legendary experiences at Cambridge and Harvard.

  3. The warmth of human kindness

    Her father’s gaslighting, her mother’s cowardice, and her brother Shawn’s violence were not the whole story of Tara’s life. The love of her grandmother, the concern of her mother, and the encouragement of her brother Tyler brought warmth and hope to her life. The friendliness of her classmates, the concern of her friends, the financial support from her church, and the attentive care of her professors were also all blessings for Tara to be thankful for.

I will keep such a positive perspective, gain strength from role models, turn hardships into wealth, feel and be grateful for the warmth of human kindness, keep learning to be educated, and fly as a bird to my mountain.