A defining moment in Hailee Hankins’ life came when she emerged from a two-week coma brought on by epilepsy medication.
She was just 8, but the experience made her realize life is a precious gift and she must seize every minute of it as if it were her last.
“It makes you cherish the things you have, from your friends and family to your education,” said Hankins, now 17, of Penngrove. “And it makes you get more involved. I don’t want to be the person who looks back and says, ‘Oh, I wish I did that.’ ”
Hankins won’t have to worry. The Tomales High School senior is immersed in all aspects of student life, from athletics to student leadership and beyond.
This year, she is senior class president, captain of the cheerleading team and yearbook editor. When not in school, she has a job at an organic dairy in Tomales.
But her main activity, one she hopes to parlay into a post-college career, is serving as FFA chapter president. Hankins is in her fourth year with the group and hopes to someday become a high school agriculture teacher.
It’s a subject that appeals to her for many reasons, including that she loves working with kids. She has raised her own livestock and has been involved in global issues such as hunger and drought.
This summer, she attended the FFA’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., and has rallied in Sacramento in support of ag education funding. She enjoyed meeting other students from across the state and nation who share her interests and concerns.
“I think it’s so cool that people my age want to make a difference,” she said. “They are driven and passionate.”
Her current ag teacher, Bill Costanzo, is her role model. Costanzo said Hankins leads the chapter’s 60 students with “real drive” while pursuing other interests such as softball and cheerleading.
Next year, she hopes to be enrolled at Oklahoma State or Kansas State, studying agriculture, he said.
“She’s a real good kid,” Costanzo said. “She has grown a lot in four years. If you ask her to do something, it’s done the right way.”
Hankins was in third grade when she was diagnosed with epilepsy. A reaction to medication left her hospitalized with failing vision and, later, in a coma.
“It shut down my body,” she said.
But she recovered, got on new medication and stopped showing symptoms by her freshman year of high school.
Along the way, she discovered a passion for new things. When a family friend introduced her to raising livestock, she latched on. First, she got her own heifer, then sheep and last year, a market pig.
She learned all the things that come with caring for farm animals, including how to milk cows and clip sheep. With her pig, which was sold for food, she felt attachment and loss.
“This was the first time I got attached,” she said. “I knew going into it. There was a little part of my heart that ached.”
Hankins said she’s considering Midwestern colleges instead of schools in her home state because she wants to meet people from other places with other perspectives. Teaching is definitely her goal, because she said she wants a job that will make her happy.
Birthplace: Santa Rosa
Lives with: Mother Sherri Hankins, twin brothers Beau and Jake, 15, who attend Petaluma High
Dad: John Hankins, Petaluma
What music he/she is listening to: Country music (Dirk Bentley)
Favorite hobby: Taking pictures
Dream job: A high school ag teacher in Northern California
Favorite TV show: 'Full House'
Favorite food: Grilled salmon
Quote: 'Fall down seven times, stand up eight.'