Meet Caroline Hatfield, Incoming President of Best Buddies!

 

Meet Caroline Hatfield, next year’s president of Vanderbilt Best Buddies.  On Wednesday, Best Buddies hosted “Spread the Word to End the Word,” an event aimed at increasing social consciousness about the way people treat others with intellectual disabilities. Caroline is also an extremely active member on campus.

 

 

1) How did you first become involved with the Best Buddies program? Did you have any experience working with individuals with intellectual disabilities before coming to Vanderbilt?

 

Before Vanderbilt I had only been briefly associated with people with intellectual disabilities. A close family friend had a daughter with Down's Syndrome, Anna Margaret, and while I did not interact much with her before she passed away, I grew up with stories of her big personality and sass! I was always taught that people with special needs were more than just a disability, but it was not until I joined Best Buddies here at Vandy that I really understood how super capable these people are. I joined the club kind of on a whim, and kind of because of Anna Margaret. The minute I met my buddy Mike I knew it was the right fit because by the end of our match party we were dancing and laughing like old friends! Joining Best Buddies was probably the best decision I've made here at Vanderbilt. 

 

2) Why did you want to be president of Best Buddies?

 

Well, I really have enjoyed being PR chair on Best Buddies Board this past year, and when the applications for President came out I just kind of thought why not? I think I'll do a decent job, and it will be a great way to meet more buddies and dedicate more time to the club. My co-president, Carey Davis, and I are really excited to lead together next year!

 

3) What have you learned from working with the Best Buddies program? 

 

I honestly could write a novel about what I've learned in Best Buddies, and this is just my second year, but I'll try to keep it to the highlights. I think the most important thing I have learned is just how great people with special needs are. My buddy Mike has some crazy ability to lift me up no matter what mood I'm in and make me happy. His smile is actually contagious, ask anyone. And through Best Buddies Spring Break, our events, and just spending time with the buddies whenever I can, I have realized that they are some of the best friends with the biggest hearts you'll ever meet. They keep things in perspective for me with their constant positivity and enthusiasm for whatever life brings. So, naturally, I've become addicted to hanging out with the buddies. Why wouldn't you spend time with the people who remind you to see the good in others as well yourself? Also they keep me laughing and that's a huge plus. I cannot express enough how truly able these people are. They can inspire and love people in ways that I had never imagined possible before. It's not being in the club per se, it's the buddies themselves that teach me everything. 

 

4) What did your event "Spread the Word to End the Word" aim to achieve and how did you go about doing so?

 

Spread the Word to End the Word is a national campaign that advocates the end of the demeaning use of the word "retard" or "retarded." Our event at Vandy really just aimed to give the campus exposure to people with special needs that they might not have gotten otherwise. We want to spread awareness about the R-Word and make people a little more conscious about how their words affect other people, and also shape their own attitudes. We really just want to show off how amazing the buddies are. I promise if you had a conversation with a buddy at our event, you'll understand why we want to stop saying the R-Word. There is absolutely no way to essentialize these individuals down to one word; they are so much more than that! Also, Sarah Hendrix helped me with all the logistics of the event, so if possible her name should totally be thrown in there. I could not have done it without her! 

 

5) What else are you involved with on campus?

 

Besides Best Buddies, I work on two VTV Shows, Points of VU and The Final Checkpoint. I'm also a member of Chi Omega. 

 

6) What are your summer plans?

 

This summer I'll be here in Nashville (so I'll get to see Mike in the summer, score!) working for Olivia Management, a band management company, and at the Friends Shop, the Vanderbilt Children's Hospital gift shop. 

 

7) Who serves as an inspiration to you and why?

 

This was weirdly a really hard question for me to answer, and it has taken a long time to really pinpoint who inspires me. I think that's because it's not really a person, it's an experience. I feel the most inspired when I watch other people interact with buddies. Whether they are used to interacting with people with special needs or they are meeting them for the first time, watching friendships form and seeing other people realize the same things I realize more and more everyday inspires me to keep spreading the word. If I can change a single person's perception of people with intellectual disabilities from someone who is "retarded" to someone who is a human with countless abilities, I'll be the happiest girl in the world. So I guess the buddies inspire me, Mike inspires me, and the students in Best Buddies and Next Steps inspire me because watching the interaction, the excitement, and the inclusion of people with special needs is the most uplifting experience I can think of.