Petit remembered as an athlete, role model

by Hillary Wool | 7/27/07 4:03am

Friends and family members are mourning the death of 17-year-old Hayley Petit, who was to matriculate as a member of the Dartmouth Class of 2011. Petit, along with her mother and sister, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and Michaela, 11, was murdered when two men invaded the family's home in Cheshire, Conn., an upscale suburb of New Haven, on Monday.

Hayley, who graduated this year from Miss Porter's School, an all-girls academy in Farmington, Conn., had been accepted to Dartmouth early decision and had been recruited for the women's crew team. She planned to pursue her interest in medicine at Dartmouth, following in the footsteps of her father, William Petit, Jr., '78, a well-respected endocrinologist and diabetes expert who is now in stable condition after sustaining serious injuries during the home invasion.

At Miss Porter's, where Hayley excelled in academics, athletics and other activities, students and faculty knew her as a campus leader and a compassionate young woman -- a student who stood out among her peers.

"Hayley was a leader publicly and privately," said Head of School Burch Ford, who was Hayley's adviser at Miss Porter's. "Her profile was very high, and her presence was profoundly felt, but this was all particularly true without her ever calling attention to herself. In doing the right thing and giving her best in everything she did, she also gave encouragement and confidence for others to do the same."

Ford and others characterized Hayley as a role model at Miss Porter's, who both students and faculty looked to and respected.

Just days before her graduation from Miss Porter's, Hayley suffered a collapsed lung and was hospitalized. Although she was in serious condition and her doctors advised her not to attend the ceremony, Hayley, in emblematic fashion, left her hospital bed to graduate with her peers.

"She came to graduation with her bandages and dress, and she got a standing ovation," Ford said, adding that her presence was appreciated because she was such an important member of the class. "[By the end of the ceremony], she could hardly navigate at that point, but she stayed the whole time and went back to the hospital after."

Hayley seemed to bring an aura of inspiration with her wherever she went.

"She just had this presence that not a whole lot of people have," said Harlan Trevithick, who rowed with Hayley at Miss Porter's and was the captain of the crew team during Hayley's junior year. "Whenever we were rowing or seeing each other on campus, it was always all smiles. Everyone knew that she was a resource. She was there for people. She had this presence of complete stability, and she was so comfortable in her own skin -- so comfortable with herself she could do anything. She never had inhibitions about doing things -- she did all these things in such a humble way."

Trevithick and others spoke of Hayley's dedication as a driving force on the team, even before she became captain her senior year.

"Whenever we were together as a team or meeting just as first boat, she would always have something to say to support everyone," Trevithick said. "Hayley was quiet, but she had this strong force. The other captain would present something to the team, and if Hayley was enthusiastic about it, it was an immediate response for everyone to do it."

Hayley, a three-sport athlete, was captain of the basketball team and ran cross-country track as well. Other teammates described the quiet, humble perseverance and energetic spirit that Hayley brought when she played any sport.

"When she came in as a freshman she was shy and quiet, but she grew into this great leader," said Erica Dressler, who was captain of the Miss Porter's basketball team when Hayley was a sophomore. Hayley played on the varsity basketball team beginning her freshman year.

"It was really cool to watch her come into her own. She was always helping everyone, was really reliable and really easy to get along with. It's funny because she was so friendly. Sometimes we wanted her to be aggressive, but she didn't have it in her. She was just so gentle and kind."

Hayley also served as co-editor in chief of Chattequa, the school's journal for academic writing, and contributed much of her time to raising money and awareness about multiple sclerosis, a degenerative muscle disease that her mother was diagnosed with eight years ago.

Since then, Hayley had raised over $50,000 towards MS through a team called Hayley's Hope. In the spring, Hayley gave a speech at the Rotary Club where her grandfather was a member.

At Dartmouth, Hayley planned to pursue pre-medical studies in the hopes of becoming a doctor one day and working to help others with MS.

"She wanted to become a doctor -- she was going to study ways to make it easier for MS patients," said Kat Bunko, Hayley's best friend since age four. "She wanted to do everything she could to make sure her mom got better."

Maria Lasarkis, director of admissions at Dartmouth, also spoke of Hayley's passion for medicine, which was evident in her application materials to the College.

"We got the sense of someone who was truly compassionate," Lasarkis said. "That's what set her apart from other highly accomplished students."

In her personal essays, Hayley wrote about how she looked up to her father in her aspirations to become a doctor and about her fundraising work for MS.

"We saw in Hayley a young woman with a great deal of potential to positively impact the Dartmouth community in and out of the classroom," she said. "Hayley was an energetic campus leader -- someone who eagerly embraced challenges that came her way. In her, we saw the important human qualities that enrich the campus."