Hayes Freedom grad finds her ‘saving grace’

Maggie Mack flourishes at HFHS after years of struggles

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Hayes Freedom High School graduate Maggie Mack (right) shakes hands with Hayes Freedom principal Amy Holmes Saturday during the Hayes Freedom graduation ceremony at Lincoln Middle School on June 15. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

Recent Hayes Freedom High School graduate Maggie Mack can look back on a younger version of herself with incredulous disbelief and wonder how she ever put herself in the position to do some of the things that she did.

The 18-year-old Mack — known as Maggie Hood back then — admits she didn’t make a lot of good choices in those days. She said she started using drugs and alcohol in the seventh grade, skipped school and surrounded herself with people who had a negative influence on her.

“I was in a very bad mindset and in a very bad environment with very bad people,” Mack said.

Midway through the 2017-18 school year, Mack moved in with her mother, Amber, in Camas and enrolled at Hayes Freedom. She had already had unsuccessful stints at Washougal, Seton Catholic and Mountain View high schools by this point in her life. After some initial trepidation, Mack said she embraced Hayes Freedom’s culture of inclusion and flourished.

“When I came here my entire mind changed,” she said. “I was like, ‘This is by far the best school I’ve ever gone to.’ It’s really my saving grace. It’s dramatic to say this, but I genuinely think I wouldn’t have (graduated) if I never ended up coming here. … It makes me want to tear up just talking about it because I never thought I’d be here.”

Mack graduated with 37 of her Hayes Freedom classmates on Saturday, June 15.

Struggling with a ‘toxic environment’

Mack said her childhood was far from ideal. Her dad, Mack said, “was kind of in and out of the picture. He came back whenever he felt like it.”

She didn’t always have a great relationship with her mother, either. One day, after having a disagreement with her mom, Mack decided to move in with her father. She soon learned “the grass is not greener on the other side,” and returned to her mother’s home.

Mack said she was one of the “popular kids” in elementary school but fell in with a tough crowd after being bullied in middle school.

“It’s hard to get yourself out of that mentality,” she said. “These people weren’t good for me.”

In high school, Mack lost her motivation to succeed academically.

When she attended Washougal High, Mack she skipped a lot of school, instead spending time at her boyfriend’s house and doing “dumb stuff.”

“I definitely was not the best student. I didn’t really enjoy coming to school when I was at my other high schools,” Mack said. “I didn’t make the smartest decisions when I was at Mountain View and Washougal just because of the environment. I think a big part of it was an ex that I had when I went to Washougal. I think it got really bad was when I was around him and his group.”

She called herself “just the classic teenager that wanted to mess around.”

But Mack eventually started thinking about ways to remove herself from the “toxic environment” that was threatening to consume her.

“I got into some trouble. I got a huge wakeup call,” she said. “I think, obviously, the older I got the more mature I got.”

But there were other things, more traumatic things Mack said, that also helped her realize she needed to turn her young life around.

“I definitely was like, ‘Oh, if I wasn’t in this situation, that wouldn’t have happened to me,'” she said.

Mack said she began to ask herself: “What am I doing? Why can’t I just do these steps I need to succeed in life?”

“I think something clicked in me, and I said, ‘I need to stop,'” she said.

Finding the confidence to succeed

When Mack arrived at Hayes Freedom, she found the support system to make the changes that she felt she needed to make.

“I like everything about this school — the one-on-one that you get with the teachers because of the longer class periods … they take time out of their day to make sure that you’re OK, and not just school-wise. At other schools I never got that from teachers,” Mack said. “And I have really bad anxiety, so the smaller classes, smaller school, really helped.”

Hayes Freedom teacher Mark Gardner, who taught Mack in two communications classes, said he was awed by her presentation of her senior project — a car show held at Doc Harris Stadium last month that raised several hundred dollars for the Best Friends Animal Society.

“That was one of the most powerful presentations I’ve ever seen, not because of what she was talking about but because of how it showed how far she’s come,” Gardner said of Mack. “She’s very focused, has a perseverance to succeed and holds herself to a very high standard. She takes to heart whatever lesson we’re focusing on in class and makes connections beyond what we’re doing in the moment.”

Mack could have graduated in 2018, but was too far behind credit-wise by the time she got Hayes Freedom and couldn’t get caught up in time. She was initially disappointed by the fact that she had to repeat her senior year, but Mack said she now she knows she benefited from the extra time at Hayes Freedom.

“It was really hard for me. I was really disappointed and really sad. I was actually angry at myself, but at the same time I (knew) I did it to myself,” she said. “I had to accept it and power through. Ever since I came here I’ve had total straight As. I don’t let myself have any slack. I think the environment pushed me to want me to become a better student.”

Mack’s boyfriend, Emery Rudalf, of Vancouver, said Mack seems to have more of a passion for school and education these days.

“She struggled when she wasn’t acknowledged after she did something good in school. She felt like it really didn’t matter,” Rudalf said. “Now she’s acknowledged when she does well in school and she has a better passion for it. Instead of giving up or dropping out, like most kids would’ve done, she set off on a different path and fought for the diploma.”

Mack receives inspiration from the memory of her grandmother, who died in 2017.

“She had this saying: ‘Good, better, best, never let it rest until the good is better and the better is best.’ She always said that to me,” Mack said of her grandmother. “I think when she passed that’s one thing that really stuck to me. I was like, ‘I can’t let her down,’ because she was my greatest supporter. It’s sad that she won’t see me graduate. I know she’ll be there spiritually. But I know she’d be proud.”

Mack completed her turnaround by being named as a HFHS student of the month, receiving scholarships and being accepted to the QC Makeup Academy, an online school.

“I’m a makeup enthusiast to the max,” she said. “I’d always see these (famous internet makeup artists) with fancy makeup, like James Charles, Jeffree Star, on social media, and I’d be like, ‘That looks really cool. I want to try it.’ Obviously it looked nothing like the social media, but then I got really into it and started looking at makeup schools.”

Mack also is considering attending an esthetician school to become a skin-care professional as well as a makeup artist.

“I know that opens a whole other realm of opportunities that I can take,” she said. “I want to start off (with) makeup and work my way up.”

Gardner said Mack “has been an amazing part of the Hayes Freedom community.”

“We were lucky to get her,” he said. “To watch her transformation, to know that this is just the beginning of what’s in store for her — there are so many amazing things that she could do. I know she’ll be successful in whatever path she decides to take. The same confidence I always had in her, now she has it too. She realizes that she’s worth having confidence in.”

Mack’s family situation has improved as well. Last Christmas, she presented her stepfather, Joseph Mack, with a special present: adoption papers. Soon thereafter, the adoption process was completed, and Maggie Hood became Maggie Mack.

“Even when him and my mom weren’t married, when they worked together, he was always a father figure to me,” Mack said of her stepfather. “I’ve always considered him my father, but it just wasn’t official legally. I was ready. I was like, ‘I don’t want that last name anymore. That’s a bad, toxic last name.'”

The name change is a perfect reflection of the changes Mack has undergone over the past two years.

“I’m so blessed that I’m able to be here now in such a different (mentality) that I can’t even fathom that I ever did those things,” she said. “I’m just like, wow, that Maggie is totally gone. I’m so glad I have a different mindset.”