Sharon Held, who was married to James, chose to honor him by returning to St. B’s each year to hand-deliver a copy of a biography to each student in the eighth and ninth grades. Every year Sharon visits an Upper School assembly and shares some insights before handing out copies of the book. Below are Sharon Held’s remarks from the 2019 James D. Held Book Award ceremony.
I want to thank you once again for inviting me to present the James D. Held Book Award today, which is always an honor. It is also my mother-in-law’s birthday, so I know this is a doubly special day for her.
As you know, each year I give out a biography that was carefully chosen for you. We read biographies to learn about people and their lives. More often than not, we read biographies about famous people who have achieved a remarkable success. We’re curious about their back story and want to learn how they achieved their greatness. However, not all biographies are about famous people.
There is the rare biography where the story is the subject and the person is the vehicle by which this story is told. This year’s book choice, Educated, is such a book. Written by Tara Westover, Educated is a memoir about a young girl who was kept out of school by her parents, leaves her family in Idaho, and goes on to earn a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure that the children received an education and certainly no one to intervene when violence broke out in the household. When one of her brothers got himself into college, Tara decided she also wanted to try a new kind of life for herself. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard, and to Cambridge University. It was at the end of that journey when she wondered if she could ever go home again. One critic wrote, “As you read her story, the questions her book poses are universal: How much of ourselves should we give to those we love? And how much must we betray them to grow up?”
Educated is about survival not only in the very raw sense but from a philosophical point of view as well. Tara did not turn to a life of crime but instead turned to a life of education, understanding that it was her only weapon out of the life she was born into. Her writing is mesmerizing. Each word will sweep you up in her world.
As you start the next chapter of your lives, you most likely won’t have to face the extremes you’ll read about in Educated but more and more you will be standing on your own, making decisions that will affect yourself, friends, and family alike. It is only natural that you will reflect on your own education at St. Bernard’s and think about all of the experiences that made it possible for you to go forward. I want to wish you all the greatest success and a wonderful summer ahead.