Profile: Living Life With a Smile
“I’m actually very happy to be on Zoom right now” is not a phrase we hear a lot eleven months into the pandemic. Yet this is what Hallie Baker stated during her interview. With a large, infectious smile on her face, she elaborated. “How I connect to people is by smiling because that is like part of my personality.” Hallie, who was new to Hanover High School this school year, has found interacting with others while wearing masks challenging because “it’s weird not to have that connection (from seeing each other’s smiles) with people.” She was therefore grateful to be on Zoom for our interview to be able to smile. Hallie’s smile perfectly embodies her positive and enthusiastic personality, which has served her well when adjusting to new schools.
Hallie is no stranger to moving – she’s moved four times and attended three different high schools. Yet as she walked me through her different experiences, Hallie only had positive memories to share. Hallie lived in Hanover until sixth grade, when she moved to California. Hallie then spent 10th and 11th grade in Washington DC, where most of her classes had between 30 to 35 students. Although Hallie jokes that in “some classes, you were in the back of the room and it was like, I can’t see up there,” she also enjoyed the bigger class sizes because she felt that when having class discussions, “everyone had different ideas and it was really interesting.” Here at Hanover High, Hallie has also seen the benefits of smaller class sizes. She explains that, “in Probability and Statistics, there’s like nine people. That would have never happened. Like ever! Which is really exciting here.”
Hallie always finds new schools nerve wracking, but luckily for her, her first day at Hanover High was easier because she already knew some people from her elementary and middle schools in Hanover. Hallie’s friend Katie Stannard kept in touch with Hallie while she lived in California and DC, and recounts that, “anytime we would call each other it was just the best part of the week.” Katie has been thrilled to have Hallie return, explaining “I just love talking to her and hanging out with her. She’s just a really nice, kind, always looks out for everyone else kind-of-person.”
Hallie is also reconnecting with old friends on the Hanover High cross country ski team. There wasn’t enough snow at her previous schools to ski, so at the start of this season Hallie had never ski raced. Still, Hallie opted to join the racing team over the developmental team because she wanted to be able to train every day and because she enjoys being challenged. When describing how the sport was going, Hallie couldn’t help but smile. “I’m definitely not…the strongest skier,” she acknowledged, “but it’s really fun because I have a really big learning curve and a lot of room for improvement.” This attitude hasn’t gone unnoticed. Hallie’s friend and teammate Sage Gilbert-Diamond appreciates having Hallie on the team because, “she is very willing to try everything – like racing, she’s never raced before – and she makes it very lighthearted because she’s not very stressed at all and just wants to have fun.”
In addition to cross country skiing, Hallie loves languages and linguistics. Almost all aspects of Hallie’s life are linked to linguistics and language in some way: Hallie had loved the most recent book she read, entitled The Poisonwood Bible, because its use of Congolese dialects fascinated her; Hallie’s bedroom wall is plastered with posters in Hindi; her favorite museum exhibit from Washington, DC showed photographs of people talking, which Hallie thought was cool because “you can’t even hear what they are saying but you can just tell!”
This past summer, Hallie took part in the U.S. State Department’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program. She was scheduled to spend the summer in India learning Hindi, but after the coronavirus outbreak, the program was moved to a two-hours-per-day online format. Most would be upset, but Hallie, in her typical positive manner, “was really excited for it because I thought it was going to be canceled.” In an effort to maintain her language abilities after the summer program, Hallie pursued a Senior Bridges project about Hindi this fall. As part of this project, Hallie had weekly conversations in Hindi with Swati Jogdand, a teacher at Hanover High School.
Throughout our conversation, Hallie’s enthusiasm for all that she does shined through in her smile and her words. For example, after hearing about Hallie’s love of linguistics, I mentioned a website with computational linguistics problems. With an infectious smile on her face and a glow in her eyes, Hallie whipped out a notebook and exclaimed, “wait, I need to write this down!”