This is one in a series of profiles showcasing some of Harvard’s stellar graduates.
Using her head and her hands, Haley Curtin ’18 has built the foundation of a meaningful life. Meaningful first of all to her.
Curtin commutes to Harvard from her home in Waltham, Mass. The daughter of a carpenter, she has spent most of her time outside the classroom working construction to help pay for college. Inside the classroom, studying religion has provided her scholarly work with deep consequential relevance. Appropriately, she sees her studies in religion as an addition to her toolbox.
“This degree is an incredible tool and such a gift, and will hopefully allow me to effect bigger change down the line,” said Curtin, 22, who completed that degree in three years. She will work next year in a high school on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota through an AmeriCorps service program. “My impact on rural impoverished America could be bigger than just home repair projects, though I would be content to do that.”
Early in her time at Harvard, Curtin’s path was less clear as she struggled to find social and academic communities. Taking the advice of her sophomore adviser, Curtin, who grew up a Roman Catholic, took her sophomore spring and junior fall semesters off, spending the first six months on Nazareth Farm, a faith-based West Virginia service community in rural Appalachia. Twenty miles outside cellphone service, Curtin worked with people some of whose homes lacked running water or floors.
“It’s a pretty stark contrast, growing up in a Boston suburb and being at Harvard, to seeing what rural poverty looks like. It was a culture shock, but I really fell in love with it,” said Curtin, who followed her time at Nazareth Farm with interning at a homeless shelter in Clarksburg, W.Va. “I lived on a salary of $100 a week, bringing small groups of residents to help families in the southern part of the state who had lost homes in a devastating flood.”