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How an eight-hour car ride helped one freshman find her home at Northeastern

Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

One of Denise Bates’ favorite books is Matilda, by Roald Dahl. It’s a story about a young girl who doesn’t quite know what to do with her own unique abilities and winds up finding strength in her own power and goodwill.

It seems only fitting that the Northeasten freshman—who has volunteered for years with myriad organizations built around helping and empowering young girls—would identify with Matilda’s story.

“I think we all go through that lack of confidence phase when we’re younger, and reading about this girl who was strong and powerful really resonated with me,” said Bates, SSH’21. “I’ve worked with a lot of kids, but if I see girls especially struggling in ways I have in the past, I want to help.”

Bates has been involved in many organizations that aim to do just that, including the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls, the Ability Tree Organization, and the youth leadership program at New Life Church. She also participated in the Arkansas Girls State Program—a government-in-action learning program focused on encouraging women in government—and the Rock Haven Bible Camp.

She plans to continue that volunteerism at Northeastern, too. Bates said she’s been looking into “a lot of different ways to volunteer here,” including with the Peace through Play program, one of the university’s most popular student groups.

What she’s found, she said, is a sense of community within these organizations.

“I fell in love with the people. It’s like finding this really big family and support system I could go to,” she said.

Bates said she plans to pursue a double major in English and history at Northeastern, with the ultimate goal of becoming a book editor. She noted that while she “fell in love” with Northeastern’s co-op program and “awe-inspiring” campus when she toured the campus for the first time, the Arkansas native struggled internally with how to regain in New England the community she’d built back home in Arkansas.

"I asked questions and I mingled at the event, and all I can tell you is that suddenly, it felt right and I knew what I had to do. From then on my mind was eased and I was really excited about coming here."

“I asked questions and I mingled at the event, and all I can tell you is that suddenly, it felt right and I knew what I had to do. From then on my mind was eased and I was really excited about coming here.”

“I applied to a bunch of different schools, all in the Northeast, because since I was little I knew I wanted to leave Arkansas—not because I hated it, but because I wanted to feel like I went out and explored these places and ended up somewhere I chose to be,” Bates said.

Still, when push came to shove, Bates hesitated. “I had kind of a tough time. I wanted to leave and was excited about going to Northeastern, but was struggling with the actual act of it,” she said.

So when Bates learned about an event in Texas for accepted students—it was the closest such event to her home—Bates’ mother knew she had to go, despite the distance.

And so, together, they drove the eight hours to Houston.

“On the drive up I started to really face my fears and confront myself, and I asked myself why it was that I was holding back from committing to a school I knew deep down was right for me,” Bates explained. “It was fear of the unknown mostly.”

Bates committed to immersing herself in the event, in order to “get a deeper sense of what being at Northeastern would really be like. Once I knew as much as I could,” she said, “there wouldn’t be reason to be scared anymore; I would know what I was getting into. So I asked questions and I mingled at the event, and all I can tell you is that suddenly, it felt right and I knew what I had to do. From then on my mind was eased and I was really excited about coming here.

“I’m so glad I went,” Bates said, noting how the event put her at ease that she’d made the right choice and found her new home in Northeastern. “That cinched it.”

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