Dream Forward: Hailey, Jacob, and Katie’s Dream
by Hanna Bernett

Hailey Dougherty was at a sporting practice in February 2020 when she suddenly became concerningly exhausted. Soon afterwards, doctors found carcinogens in her blood, and she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Over a year later, she is currently in remission and paired with Penn State’s Club Softball team. True to her intellect and compassionate nature, Hailey hopes to pursue a medical career when she’s older. 

Hailey and her mom Heather during THON 2021’s virtual Family Hour

Hailey recognizes that a career in the medical field will enable her to help others, something that Penn State nursing student and Family Relations Captain Jacob Groger also values. “My dream for my future career is to be able to be light alongside people when they are facing some of the most difficult times in their life. As a nurse I want to be able to help, encourage and support people as they fight disease, injury, and illness. I hope to one day be a nurse that can put a smile on everyone’s face and inspire those around me to just simply fight for people.” 

Aside from similar career dreams, Hailey and Jacob also share the THON experience of growing into themselves and connecting with others.  

Through THON, and specifically through THON’s Teen Network, Hailey learned how to be genuine and embrace herself. When asked what advice she’d give to another Four Diamonds kid, Hailey instantly answered, “Don’t try to fit in; you will fit in no matter what.” She elaborated that “everyone comes from a different place, everyone has had different experiences, but they are all linked because something that doesn’t happened to every family has happened to them. So just be you and you’ll fit in better than if you’re trying to fit in.” 

Just like Hailey, Jacob also feels that THON has given him a place to become himself. “THON has been so integral to my dream as to why I am here at Penn State. It has created a place for me to grow in my passion for helping others while also giving me a community of other people who have dreams similar to mine. THON and more specifically the Four Diamonds Families have motivated me in an entirely new way and have also given me an opportunity to start living out my dream now.” 

Jacob’s dream of helping others is one that is bound to grow exponentially after graduation. This is clear through the example of Katie Taylor, a 2007 graduate, certified child life specialist, and founder/host of the podcast Child Life On Call. Now residing with her husband and two children in Austin, Texas, Katie provides psychosocial support to children and families as they deal with life’s challenges and medical experiences. 

“Our goals for kids and families are as unique as they are, but often include education, normalizing complex experiences, promoting coping skills and helping kids… feel like kids! I’ve been in the field for 12 years now and started Child Life On Call to really focus on supporting parents and caregivers as they support their child.” 

Like Jacob, Hailey, and many others, Katie found herself through THON. “As a freshman at Penn State, I was on the Lionettes Dance Team and knew very little about THON. One of the upperclassmen on our team had to defer dancing at THON due to a medical condition and I stepped up. I had NO idea what I was in for, but the experience was transformative. Those 48 hours in 2004 changed the trajectory of my life. After dancing as a freshman, I went on to captain three different committees for the rest of my time at Penn State. I served as a Rules & Regulations Captain, I was the Line Dance Coordinator as a Morale Captain (Now Dancer Relations), and I was a Family Relations Captain my senior year.”

“My mom always instilled in me that part of our role on this Earth was to ‘make the world a better place.’ So, as someone who loved writing and journalism, I really saw myself working at non-profits that supported kids. However, once I was volunteering at Hershey Medical Center with some fellow morale captains and I met a Child Life Specialist. Right then and there, I knew that was my dream job and did everything in my power to chase it.” 

There is something incredibly special about THON’s power to enable every individual to learn more about themselves while serving others. Katie Taylor summed it up well: “THON is what the world should be like, everyone working together to reach a common goal. No one at THON is there for themselves, we are all there for someone else. As Joe Paterno said at the last THON at Rec Hall where I was a dancer, ‘THON is what we mean when we say WE ARE PENN STATE.’”