KOKOMO, Ind. — if you’ve been to an Indiana University Kokomo event, you’ve probably met Hayden Turner.
Turner, who graduates in May, has been a cheerleader officially, wearing the Kingston Cougar costume, and unofficially, cheering from the stands at basketball games, soccer matches, cross country meets, volleyball games, and more. He also participates in student activities and encourages his classmates to do the same.
“I’m there getting people to attend, letting them know when games are, and what to wear,” the Kokomo resident said. “School spirit was something I felt could be improved, and with being a smaller campus, you want to be sure everyone is connected. You’re going to see the same people in your major for the rest of your life. You might as well get to know the rest of the students while you are here, and the best way is through sports and events.”
After completing his degree in communication, Turner plans to continue into IU Kokomo’s Master of Public Management program. Knowing the difference campus activities made for him, his goal is to work on a college campus as a student life professional.
“One of the biggest things a college needs to focus on is its students, and what we can do to make their education a little more fun,” he said.
He recalled attending lots of campus events as a freshman, until the COVID-19 pandemic meant classes had to go remote, and then to hybrid status when students returned. He realized then how much he missed the interaction with others, and how it made him part of the campus community.
“I decided I wanted to get more involved when we came back,” he said, adding that he became friends at that time with Mary Hogsett, who was the Student Government Association (SGA) vice president.
“She realized the potential I had that I wasn’t using and gave me the opportunity I needed to become more involved,” he said. She guided him through starting an indoor soccer club, and later he joined the Spanish club and became an SGA senator.
He also took on the persona of Kingston Cougar, appearing as the mascot at games, activities, community events, and IU events. His favorite memory is winning the IU mascot talent show, competing with representatives from all campuses.
“Wearing the costume, I’m just able to let loose and dance around,” he said. “I don’t dance, but when I put on the suit, it’s freeing. I didn’t realize how many people I could make smile doing goofy things. When I can make them feel like part of the crowd, it’s a great moment, no matter how hot it is inside that suit.”
Turner said attending the KEY Summer Institute before he enrolled set him up to succeed, and his KEY faculty members, J.R. Pico and Deborah Jaworski, supported him all four years.
“It’s one of the most important parts of my college experience,” he said. “It got me in the mindset of what I was getting into and allowed me to meet my professors and peers.”
Jaworski said Turner makes the campus a better place, driving SGA’s efforts to revive campus life since the pandemic.
“It is heartwarming to see Hayden encouraging students to attend athletic events on campus, participate in campus activities, take dancing lessons with the Multicultural Center, join student organizations, and connect with each other,” she said. “Hayden brings our campus community together, and he is a supportive friend to classmates when they are struggling or having a bad day.”
Turner, from Kokomo, credits many people around him — faculty, staff, and students — for the roles they played in getting him to graduation.
“On my own, I wouldn’t be able to get where I am now,” he said. “When it comes to connections, mental health, and enjoyment of my education, they’ve supported me.”