My Carolina Experience: Haley Hemm
By Zoya Johnson, GoHeels.com
When Haley Hemm was making her college decision her final two choices were Stanford and UNC, both incredible options for an aspiring collegiate women's tennis player.
Not only was Hemm's first choice Stanford, the University was literally five minutes away from her hometown of Menlo Park, Calif. "And of course, my parents wanted me to go there because well, it's 'Stanford,' " she says in reflection.
However, when Hemm first visited UNC's campus with her father she became overwhelmed with a feeling of belonging. Her official recruiting trip only confirmed this and despite all the factors that were pointing to Stanford, Hemm went with what she felt in her gut and made the choice to become a Tar Heel, joining coach Brian Kalbas' Carolina program in the fall of 2008.
Hemm came to campus with a mindset that put her education first. Her second priority was to become the best teammate and tennis player she could be.
"I was able to balance academics with the demands of athletics because Coach Kalbas always valued academics. Like me, he put them first," she says. "He was focused on the people we wanted to become in the future and even though he was our tennis coach, he knew academics were a large part of that formation," says Hemm.
"There was one pivotal moment in my career. I was so focused on being the perfect teammate - selfless, supportive, hardworking and encouraging. At that point, I was in and out of the line-up. Coach sat me down and said, 'Haley, what if you playing to your full potential fearlessly is what is best for the team?"
That moment helped Hemm discover the notion that sometimes putting oneself first is the best way to guarantee the success of your team. It was in that moment that Hemm's goals were strengthened because her mindset was changed for the better.
When asked how she feels Carolina helped her grow as a person, Hemm cites two integral parts of the Carolina student-athlete experience - the Carolina Leadership Academy and Carolina Outreach.
Even now, Hemm holds the four C's concept she learned in the Leadership Academy dear to her heart. "I will never forget the Four C's: commitment, character, confidence, and composure. Those four elements have been a driving factor and a safety net in my current teaching career. I constantly refocus myself with them when times get rough or situations become adverse."
It was through Carolina Outreach that she was able to discover her passion for teaching.
"Carolina Outreach gave me opportunities to volunteer in local schools, doing tutoring, organizing field days, participating in read-a-thons, and assisting teachers in their classrooms. It also gave me the opportunity to teach and coach in rural Vietnam through the program Coach for College, one of the most influential experiences in my life," Hemm explains.
Since graduating in 2012, Hemm has been teaching with Colegio Bilingue New Horizons in Santo Domingo, the capital city of Dominican Republic. The experience has allowed Hemm to impact lives in the way that her coaches at Carolina impacted hers.
"Working every day with young people, it is magical and rejuvenating in the purest form. To inspire, motivate and watch my students expand their knowledge, transform their worldviews and become confident, caring young adults is the most rewarding job," says Hemm.
Hemm, a person with boundless energy, has taken the lessons she learned at Carolina an applied them to her teaching career.
"Being able to watch, learn, interact and hear stories from such a variety of people was truly one of the biggest blessings I experienced at UNC," Hemm says in reference to her former teammates and coaches. "Their struggles, their work ethic, their goals, their talents influenced me in such a profound way. These people inspired me and changed my life for the better."
In the near future, Hemm plans on returning to the San Francisco Bay Area to pursue her teaching credential and continue her teaching career. The experience in Santo Domingo is one that she would not trade for the world but now Hemm feels it is time to return home and pursue the next chapter of her life.
To young people looking to begin the next chapters of their lives at UNC Hemm says, "Go with your instinct like I did. Because if you have an inkling that you might belong at UNC, trust it. You will not be disappointed. Don't get tied down in routine. Widen your worldview by trying different classes, hanging out with people who aren't athletes, join a club, volunteer. Do it all! UNC has so much to offer and something for everyone."
As a teacher who believes in a holistic learning experience, Hemm draws strength from her experience as a Carolina student-athlete to improve in her profession every day. "In my life, I have never met such upstanding people as those I was surrounded by at UNC."