Five years ago, as she started to wrap up her high school career, Bailey Hartill fell down a flight of stairs and sustained a head injury that was so bad she had to re-learn how to walk and talk. She couldn’t drive. Some of her cognitive functions — things like reasoning, remembering, and problem solving — fell apart.
She had planned to attend college in the south, but even after her months-long recovery, she didn’t feel comfortable being that far away. So Hartill turned to Central Maine Community College in Auburn, where she could start college close to her Brunswick home, continue to gain strength, and forge a path forward.
On May 6, that path will take her across the University of Southern Maine’s Commencement stage, where Hartill will receive her bachelor’s degree in Leadership and Organizational Studies. She’ll continue forward with a master’s degree in Leadership as part of an accelerated program that allows students to start graduate classes while still an undergrad.
“In high school I had these big ideas, this big plan. When my life kind of came to a halt, it was like, ‘Whoa,” said Hartill, 22. “It’s okay to be unsure. It’s okay for your plans to change.”
At CMCC, Hartill opted for an associate’s degree in General Studies. While she hadn’t expected to start college just miles from her childhood home, the small school was just what she needed. She started with a plan to go on to become a chiropractor, but Hartill soon realized she’d have to move out of state to complete that education. She shifted her career path and looked to USM instead.
She transferred credits and moved almost seamlessly from two-year community college to four-year university. She started at USM as a junior.
“They taught me a bunch of things from a smaller scope at first. And then when I got to USM, I kind of really knew how to advocate and where to go for help, stuff like that,” she said.
Hartill enjoyed higher ed so much that she accepted a position at CMCC as an admissions representative. She worked full time and went to USM full time, a schedule made manageable because her USM classes were fully online.
“The admissions rep position has a lot of travel in it, so my schedule’s kind of all over the place. I couldn’t even come to an evening class,” she said. “Then last summer I heard about the accelerated grad program. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to do that.’”
For the past year, Hartill has taken graduate classes as she’s finished her undergraduate requirements, allowing her to shave off two semesters’ worth of work. She also applied for — and won — a coveted spot in a Leadership study abroad program to South Africa this summer.
“We’ll be working with underserved communities and really learning about leadership from a global standpoint,” she said.
She hopes one day to serve in a leadership role herself, potentially in higher education.
“I love higher ed,” she said. “I love helping people figure out what they want to do and making it achievable and realistic for them.”