"Hayden represents everything that (Mississippi State University) stands for — she embraces differences, is eager to grow and willing to serve. She embodies the type of kindness that we should all strive for," said Kylie Forrester, director of orientation and events at MSU, in an email to the Reflector.
A servant leader with a passionate heart and funny personality is how many people define Hayden Tucker, Mississippi State University's 2021 homecoming queen.
Senior biochemistry major Tucker grew up in Brandon, Mississippi. While Tucker said she initially had challenges getting involved on MSU's campus her freshman year, the homecoming queen found her passions later that year, which carried her through the rest of her time at the university.
"I think I got more out of college than I ever expected to, and I'm not ready to leave," Tucker said with a laugh.
Tucker pledged Delta Gamma her freshman year; then, sophomore year, she served as a Gamma Chi and an orientation leader and participated in Dance Marathon. In her junior year, Tucker joined Dance Marathon's executive board and Maroon VIP.
Tucker reflected on her time as a Gamma Chi and emphasized the connections she made that year with the girls she counseled and the other Gamma Chi leaders. Although the pandemic affected her time in the role, Tucker said she was able to build more personal relationships with the women she met that year despite the initial challenges.
Because of her time as an orientation leader, Tucker said the experience opened many doors for her future involvement at the university.
"I never knew that I would be able to love MSU as much as I was able to until I was an orientation leader, because I got to learn about the history and the traditions in a deeper sense than you would get by just participating in New Maroon Camp or being on campus," Tucker said.
Tucker's easy-going nature led her to develop friendships with both people involved in the same organizations as her and people outside those organizations alike. One of the reasons she enjoyed being an orientation leader was due to the connections she made with unique people who she would not have met otherwise, Tucker said.
Beth Ann Young, a senior human development and family science major, is a close friend of Tucker's and a fellow Delta Gamma. She initially met Tucker because they lived in the same residence hall and pledged the same sorority. Young said Tucker was easy to befriend because of her infectious laugh and relatable personality.
"She's just so silly and easy to get along with," Young said with a smile as she recalled the pair's years of friendship.
Director of Orientation Forrester first met Tucker when the student applied for an orientation leader position in fall 2019. During their time together, Forrester noted the servant heart Tucker exhibited as an OL.
"I think Hayden was an excellent orientation leader because she truly wanted to serve," Forrester wrote. "She didn't become an orientation leader for the title; she became an orientation leader because she was willing to work really hard to serve this university and our incoming students, even when people weren't watching or when no one noticed."
Tucker's love for the organizations she is involved with is apparent in each position she has held, according to Young and Forrester.
When Tucker initially contemplated running for homecoming queen, she said she wavered on the decision because she was unsure if she was truly interested in competing. However, once Tucker realized she could run a service-based campaign for a philanthropy of her choice, she cemented her decision and ran for election.
"Win or lose, I think the campaigning process would be so worth it," Tucker said.
Furthering her love of service, Tucker dedicated her philanthropy to the Diabetes Association of Mississippi and encouraged students to participate in Mississippi's Walk for Diabetes-Golden Triangle in Columbus, Mississippi. Tucker has Type 1 diabetes, so her charity hits close to home. Young noted Tucker's compassion for those in need and said Tucker genuinely cares about advocating for people with diabetes.
Additionally, Tucker is a Montgomery Leadership Program fellow at MSU, where she mentors freshmen Day One participants and volunteers for the Girls Scouts of Mississippi.
Working with the Girl Scouts, Tucker said she learned patience and became a better leader because of uncertain circumstances presented throughout her time as an MLP fellow.
Though Tucker is a social butterfly, she is also studious and devotes much of her time to her biochemistry major and applying to medical schools. Because of her diabetes diagnosis, Tucker wants to dedicate her future medical career to garnering support and outreach for those with the condition.
"Everything she's in she really pours her heart into, and she's passionate about her major and has big plans for the future," Young said. "She loves every second on this campus."
One of Tucker's favorite activities is attending concerts, and she and Young have attended many together throughout their friendship. Tucker said one of the ways she likes to reach out to people is through music, and said she uses music to form relationships and launch conversations.
Additionally, Tucker enjoys walking with friends, both new and old, around downtown Starkville, the Cotton District and MSU's campus. She said she uses these walks to get to know her peers and often invites new acquaintances to walk with her to build stronger relationships.
Tucker never meets a stranger, according to Young and Tucker. She is intentional in her interactions and always greets new acquaintances with excitement and a smile.
"She is one of the most genuine people I have ever met, and people are drawn to her because of it," Forrester said.
Young said Tucker eases awkward situations with humor and uses catchphrases from TikTok to make others laugh.
"I'm just not shy at all, so I'll just talk to anyone," Tucker said, agreeing with Young.
While Tucker has a silly, laid-back personality, the homecoming queen understands the importance of representing MSU and displays a genuine love and respect for her university.
Tucker noted the importance of leadership throughout her time on campus and said she wants her role as homecoming queen to serve as a reminder of what a leader at Mississippi State University represents.
"I think a good leader is someone who is passionate about what they're leading, but they're also not so passionate that they're overlooking everyone or everyone's opinion," Tucker said. "I think a good leader is someone who cares enough that they can take a step back and recognize that what they want to do might not always be the best way and really value the opinion of the team."