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An unexpected journey: Haley Batchelder reflects on her four years at Westfield State and looks to the future ahead

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Photo provided by Haley Batchelder

 

When you think about Haley Batchelder, your first thoughts are probably about a variety of things: her infectious smile, her bubbly personality, or even her love for hearing her own voice in a microphone. While Haley is a lot of things, there is one thing for sure: she is the definition of multi-faceted.

Haley has thrived these last four years at Westfield. She successfully directs the acaOWLETTES, campus’s only all-female a cappella group, is the Vice President of Programming, and received the prestigious “Wisdom and Merit” award this past Tuesday, just to name a few; however, Haley did not come into college the same way she is leaving it.

“High school Haley was nothing like college Haley,” she says. “I was the girl that was flat out average. I was liked and I had friends but I didn’t put myself out there.”

Though not as involved as she is now in college, Haley’s high school career was successful. A National Honors Society student achieving high marks and procuring many friends, Haley dropped athletics after her sophomore year and participated in other activities, such as her high school’s community service club and her church’s youth group. Her passion for serving and mission work, including mission trips to the Dominican Republic and West Virgina as well as local disaster relief in the Brimfield/Sturbridge area, procured during this time.

High school was also where she found her passion for music. She played music acoustically with her friend, in a band called 21A, and with her church’s worship band. Haley showcased her talents at open mic nights, coffeehouses, and at her church.

Regardless, Haley said that she essentially “accepted the complacency that comes with growing up in the same town with the same people your whole life.”

“I was comfortable and didn’t feel the need to challenge that comfort,” she said

When looking at colleges, price was a huge factor, as it is for many students pursuing higher education. Haley’s own father attended Westfield and had a wonderful experience. Pairing this thought with Westfield’s almost unbeatable price, it became the place where she would spend four years.

After her first semester, Haley admits that she initially wanted to transfer somewhere closer to her hometown of Hopkinton, Mass. Haley attributes her immense involvement on campus to her eventual love for Westfield.

“It sounds cheesy, but getting involved saved my life and made all the difference,” the now-college senior said. “I was attached to my life at home; my relationship, my friends, my family, and I didn’t allow myself to let Westfield become my new home. Your college experience is exactly what you make it to be. Now, I can’t imagine being anywhere else but Westfield.”

In terms of her academic career, Haley entered college undeclared.

“By the end of freshman year, everybody was declaring, stressing me out immensely,” she said.

Originally, Haley was an English education major, but after her observation hours, Haley realized that this just wasn’t for her. Although initially terrified to drop her education certification, her advisor Dr. Emily Todd was incredibly supportive, and remains so to this day. Now, Haley remains with the department, but as an English major with a writing concentration and Communication minor.

“When I decided to drop my education track, I stayed with the English department; I just couldn’t bear the thought of leaving the support system I’d gained through the students and professors in this department. Every professor cares so much about the progress of each individual student, both inside and outside the classroom,” she said.

One of these caring professors that Haley so adores is Prof. Leah Nielson. One memory of Nielson that has stuck with Haley is one from her Career Prep for Writers class. The members of the class each had to create and maintain a blog throughout the duration of the semester. Nielson encouraged Haley to write about her faith, something very near and dear to Haley’s heart. This topic was something Haley had never before had courage to discuss, but with Nielson’s unwavering guidance and support, Haley says that her confidence in herself and her voice grew.

“Leah is just so real and takes on both a professor role, as well as that of a friend,” she said.

Haley first started getting involved on campus at the end of her freshman year.

“I know it’s your classic sob story, but my boyfriend had broken up with me and I now had so much free time to fill. So I became involved in the Campus Activities Board and played guitar for the Musical Theatre Guild’s (MTG) Spring production that year,” she said.

Haley has only stepped up in her involvement with the Campus Activities Board (CAB). Haley has been on CAB’s executive board for years, and is just now finishing up her year as CAB’s president—and the campus’s vice president of programming, in which she sits on the Student Government Association’s (SGA) executive board. She says that her role as president has allowed her “even more opportunities to spread [her] joy on this campus through hosting events like Bingo, Spring Weekend, and even Mr. Westfield.”

Along with her roles on CAB and SGA, Haley is also the director of the acaOWLETTES. The fall of her freshman year, Haley’s close friend Olivia Dumas asked her to join this group: Westfield State’s first all-female a cappella group on campus. Dumas knew of Haley’s extensive knowledge and talent in regards to music—her beautiful voice, in particular—and hoped Haley would take over once Dumas graduated. Haley graciously accepted the offer, and the rest is history. Haley felt as if she had truly found her place; she met some of her greatest friends, and found confidence in herself like no other.

“I stepped on stage for the first time and, much to my surprise, I wasn’t nervous,” she said. “I was extremely comfortable and found great ease in expressing myself on stage. I acted as my goofy self and people actually enjoyed it. I finally felt comfortable in being myself. Now, as director, I aim to help the girls in the group find that same confidence.”

As a member of the group myself, I can only confirm this. Haley’s leadership, passion, and fun-loving personality bring so much to our rehearsals each week behind the walls of Bates Hall. Personally, Haley has been one of my greatest role models.

I distinctly remember stepping on stage last December for my first solo at my first concert with the group. I was filled with absolute panic, sweating bullets and barely able to breathe. I nervously gripped the microphone and looked over at Haley to watch her cue in the group. She playfully winked and mouthed, “You’ve got this,” before giving us our pitch and beginning the song. In that moment, I knew everything would be alright. Her confidence in me, and the group as a whole, made that moment—and that night—something I will never forget.

In terms of the future, things are not crystal clear for the clearly ambitious and dedicated senior.

“Throughout my four years here, numerous friends would tell me about that light bulb that went off in their head where they realized they knew what they wanted to do; I never had that light bulb,” she said. “I spent four years taking a wide variety of classes, exploring various internships, and diving into a large handful of extracurricular activities intending to find the switch for that light bulb. Much to my dismay, none of that has lead me to the answer to that big question: what do I want to do with my life?”

Despite this uncertainty, Haley says that she doesn’t regret any of the decisions that she made throughout her four years here at Westfield.

“Every right or wrong decision I’ve made has lead me to where I am and I wouldn’t change any of that,” she said.

In terms of her major, and the uncertainty of the still-dim light bulb looming over her head, Haley confirms that she made the right decision regardless.

“I wouldn’t have chosen any other major but English,” she asserted. “Although I don’t necessarily want to be an author or editor in the future (although I’m not ruling it out), writing is therapeutic for me. Courses I’ve taken and writing techniques I’ve learned have taught me how I can express myself through writing and that is a tool I will always take with me.”

Haley truly believes that college is not just a place to learn, but also a place to find yourself. Even though she is unsure of what the future holds, she is confident in the skills she has learned here and the person she has become through it all.

“College has more taught me about the type of person I am; somebody who likes to spread joy and bring energy to anything she does; somebody who finds joy by helping others,” she said. “I can leave college knowing that I want to do something that allows me to be the best self I can be,” she says.

Her advice to other students who may be in the same boat?

“Don’t let everyone else’s plans define your own! I struggled with this, and still do, as I have friends going to grad school, interviewing for their dream job and I’m sitting over here not sure where I’ll be come next year. And that’s okay,” she assures. “Everybody’s journey is different and there is no right or wrong path to take. Just because your friends have their future figured out, it doesn’t mean you need to. And if you don’t know what you want to do or what you’re passionate about, just do something!”

In terms of the future of her career: “I don’t have any solid plans or passions for a career but I do have a passion for serving,” she said.

With this being said, Haley is taking a big step this October: moving. Haley will be headed to Colorado to join Americorps NCCC to serve. She knew that she wanted to take a year off post-graduation and pursue something in the service or mission work field. Although she looked into several different programs—local, national, and international—this job in particular seemed like the right fit.

“Americorps had exactly what I wanted and promised me opportunities to stretch myself in ways I never thought possible, continue to grow my leadership skills and help those that need it in a noticeable, impactful way,” she said.

Haley’s nerves about the move and the job are outweighed by her excitement to start this ten-month-long journey.

“I have the rest of my life to have a career and make money but not many other chances to escape from my world for ten months and give myself to somebody else’s world. I may leave the program knowing what I want to do with my life or I may not. Either way, I can confidently say I’ll leave the program a stronger person than I was before and that is an opportunity I needed to take advantage of,” she said.

Several of Haley’s friends and colleagues agree with me on her positive impact on this campus.

“Haley has truly blossomed this year,” said Evelyn Dina, SGA President and one of Haley’s friends. “She nearly changed the meaning of CAB; it’s no longer about getting the best programs we can afford. She has dedicated countless hours to providing enjoyable programming for everyone, while still having the energy to pour her heart and soul into SGA. I am so proud of her.”

Another of Haley’s closest friends, fellow acaOWLETTE, and CAB executive board member, Hanna Christ, talks of Haley’s infectious personality and admirable characteristics.

“Haley serves as such an inspiration to so many. Her positivity is simply contagious, and I think I speak for many when I say that I truly feel I am a brighter and better person with Haley as a friend,” she said.

Matt Carlin, the Vice President of Student life and another person who greatly admires Haley, only adds to these thoughts.

“Haley Batchelder is a leader that comes once in a lifetime and I am grateful to have witnessed her leadership first hand,” he said. “She displays the very virtues that have only been expressed during biblical times. She is kind, humble, temperate, and pursues the just cause whenever possible. Her leadership has been an inspiration and her departure will be felt in the coming fall semester.”

Danny Chamberlain, the vice president of CAB and one of Haley’s dear friends, echoes the sentiments of his peers.

“Haley puts her whole heart into everything she does and she genuinely cares about everyone she interacts with. She is one of the funniest and most genuine people I’ve met here at Westfield State, and I am so lucky to have her as my friend,” he said.

As for her future in life in general: “I want to find something that makes me so happy that nothing else will matter,” she said simply. Whether I find that in marriage, family, career success or friendships (hopefully all the above), I want to be happy.”

There is no doubt in my, or anyone else’s, mind that Haley will only continue to grow in the future. Her passion, dedication, and overall insatiable desire to give her full heart to anyone and everyone who crosses her path are things that cannot be replaced.

Her advice for anyone who may be struggling with his or her own vision for their future, whether personally or professionally, are simple.

“My final words will be this: look for joy,” she said. “Don’t look for success or wealth. If you look for happiness, those things may come right to you, or they may not. But when you’ve truly found joy, nothing else will matter.”

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