Whenever it I shoot a senior session, it really takes me back to my younger years - when I was young and wild and free. Okay, that is part of the lyrics from Bryan Adams' "Heaven," but seriously though. It takes me back to the days when I had the rest of my life all figured out. I was going to graduate high school and go to college - that was life "all figured out" in my 18-year-old mind. There was just one little problem though: I didn't have a plan. What's more, I didn't do any of the work needed to set the stage for college to happen, so surprise! Nothing worthwhile beyond me graduating high school happened ... until about six years later when I joined the military, popped my head out, and did some growing.
In the few hours I spent getting to know Hailey as we trekked end-to-end through the gorgeous Fort Steilacoom Park, it became clearly evident that this young woman has accomplished more in her last two years of high school than I did in my entire four years of high school plus the six years between graduating and joining the military. A huge part of that is likely due to the fact she has been planning and taking steps toward making her dreams and goals a reality since the moment she decided to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in Black Hills High School's Running Start Program through South Puget Sound Community College.
"It's helped teach me things I could never even imagine being taught in high school," she said. "At high school, it's six core classes - math, English, science, your 'health', some random elective, and another class like art or choir. The main problem with that in my eyes is that we don't have flexibility with our schedules. When I went to (running start) college, I wasn't taking just any science, I could take criminology, sociology or psychology ... and they were all worth the same amount of credits."
Beyond allowing her to take classes that she finds more interesting and relevant to the life skills she believes are important, Hailey said the program has further sparked her desire to continue her education in criminal justice at Central Washington University and embark on a career in law enforcement.
"I've just always had a spot in my heart for law enforcement," she said. "I'd like to help rebuild facilities like prisons and make them more for rehabilitation versus punishment because I know punishment doesn't press consequences, it presses anger. I want there to be a program that actually makes the world a safer place, and I want to make sure if anyone is in charge of it, it's someone like me."
Hailey blew my mind and heart away with her amazing intuition and deep intellect, but she made it perfectly clear that the love and support she has received from her family is largely to thank for the person she is becoming.
"My parents have always pushed me to be better than I think I am," she said. "I love the relationship I've built with my parents and the life lessons they've taught me over time..."
Aside from her parents, Hailey said her Uncle Jason (Uncle J) has also helped her stay grounded, especially when life feels a bit rough and tough.
"Uncle J takes me on trips and talks with me about my problems ... which helps me a lot," she said. "I feel like he understands me more than I do, and that makes me feel comfortable with him. I think everyone needs an Uncle J."
Outside of her family, Hailey said she also cherishes the strong connections she has built with many of her classmates, including one person in particular that she is deeply going to miss when she graduates.
"Madison and I became friends our freshmen year when she moved here, and we both genuinely believe that God brought us together...," she said. "I know that when we graduate, my class that I've grown up with the past 17 years will fade into a memory, and that really scares me ... but I know our spirits will hold us together."