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‘Educated’ author Tara Westover to speak at Christian Culture Lecture

| Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Saint Mary’s will host the annual Christian Culture Lecture series with speaker Tara Westover on Wednesday.

The Christian Culture series is an annual event at the College that brings influential figures in to speak to students.

“We’re always looking for a big name in the humanities who could speak in some way to the influence of Christianity on culture,” Laura Williamson Ambrose, chair of the humanistic studies department, said. 

Ambrose said she initially got the idea to invite Tara Westover after learning about her memoir “Educated” through a local book club discussion. 

“At that book club discussion, one of the people in attendance excitedly talked about this memoir that had just been published, ‘Educated,’” she said. “I took a mental note and within a couple of months, I went and read it and immediately recognized its power. We recognized it had really great potential to speak to our students, the community at large and we really lucked out in being able to secure Tara Westover to come to campus.”

The lecture will look different this year due to coronavirus, Ambrose said, but the College still wants to give the community a chance to share in this experience. 

“We decided to do a pre-recorded conversation that we could bundle into a nice video to give everyone an entertaining experience as well as an enlightening one,” Ambrose said.

The College has received an overwhelming amount of support from the community, she said, as thousands of people have registered to receive the link to view the event Wednesday.

“The event that is most pertinent to the public at large has essentially gone viral,” she said. “We have over 30,000 people from six continents registered to watch the video when we release the link at 5 p.m. EST on Wednesday. The video will be available for at least 24 hours, but we hope to keep it up longer in order to accommodate different time zones.”

Ambrose said the College also wants to find a way to engage its students since many attend the lecture for their various classes, so the idea of a watch party was born.

“We are going to bring in a truck with a giant screen on library green at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday night so that 250 students can watch the event,” she said. “There is a special bonus feature for students Wednesday night, and the first 100 students to check-in get a free Saint Mary’s blanket.” 

Ambrose also said that because of the online format and the effects of coronavirus, the College has decided to make this event free to attend. 

“Historically we did charge for the lecture, but when we went online we had a conversation and ultimately, I felt really strongly that there was too much chaos with the pandemic and too much of a sense of loss for us to think about monetizing this event,” she said. 

As an institution, the College decided that the goal was to promote the idea of education and get as many people in the community involved as possible.

“We thought, ‘What is the essence of this event?’ We want to communicate the message of the importance of education, particularly for women,” Ambrose said. “That’s what we stand for as an institution.”

Instead, the College has asked that if anyone wishes to make a donation, they make it to the COVID-19 emergency fund for students. 

“Tara Westover’s story about overcoming adversity felt like the perfect opportunity to encourage people who attend for free to consider offering a financial gift to the student emergency fund at Saint Mary’s,” Ambrose said. 

Many students have expressed excitement about the event.

“I had to read ‘Educated’ for a class and I absolutely loved it. It is an incredible memoir and I’m very excited to see the interview with Westover,” senior Brynne Volpe said. “It’s kind of crazy to hear how many people are viewing this lecture. I remember the biggest Christian Culture lecture was probably Margaret Atwood, but this is on a whole new level.”

Junior Abigail Pinnow said she is excited to attend the student viewing party after reading Westover’s book with her family. 

“I read the book with my whole family and we really enjoyed it,” she said. “I think it’s super cool how many people can attend the lecture this year. My high school teacher went to Saint Mary’s and she’s able to participate even though she lives twelve hours away. It lets people from all over enjoy Saint Mary’s and all the wonderful things we have to offer here.”

Ambrose said she hopes that students will attend the watch party or view the event because it will be an opportunity that they will never forget. 

“When I think about my time as an undergraduate, I don’t always remember my classes, but I do remember waiting in line to attend events when speakers came to campus,” she said. “They are world-class speakers and to be able to do that for free and with your fellow students on a beautiful evening and watch your institution celebrated is frankly, just a really positive collective experience that we need right now.”

The link will be available online starting 5 p.m. EST Wednesday.

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