HawkStrong: Writing is Carmen Hayes’ voice to the world

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Carmen Hayes, wearing a pink tutu and white tank top, posing next to her Princess Nellie character illustration.

For Carmen Hayes, who graduated from HFC in May, writing is an essential creative and coping outlet.

“I started writing when I was 14. I was diagnosed with epilepsy as a teenager. Writing became my way of expressing my voice. It has helped me cope with my diagnosis,” said Hayes, of Farmington Hills. “It has been very therapeutic. It got me through not understanding epilepsy and eventually accepting it. I was able to process things through writing instead of being nonverbal about it.”

In late April, Hayes was one of 250 students who attended the HFC Alumni Association Graduation Celebration Days and received her alumni pin. Hearing Hayes’ story brought HFC Assistant Director of Advancement Dr. Shai James-Boyd to tears.

“Meeting Carmen and hearing about her experience in completing her degree did more for me than anything I could give her,” said James-Boyd. “It's the little things that make students feel valued, seen, and heard. Meeting students during Graduation Celebration Days reminded me why I wanted a career in higher education.”

Hayes' nieces and nephews inspired her children’s books

The fourth of eight children, Hayes is the namesake of Carmen Harlan, an iconic broadcast journalist who worked at Local 4 in Detroit for 40 years. Hayes was homeschooled and enrolled at HFC (then Henry Ford Community College) after graduation.

“I enrolled at the College when I was 17. There was so much going on at the time. I was in an environment I didn’t understand, having been homeschooled. It was a challenging time for me because I also had a lot of health problems, so I took a long break from school, which turned out to be more than a decade,” recalled Hayes.

When she returned to HFC in 2022, Hayes had already written and self-published four children’s books and one book of poetry under the pseudonym Carmen Lanaé (all may be found through national booksellers or local outlets):

  • Princess Nellie
  • My Best Friend Nicky Special Edition
  • How Mason Became Captain Shoelace
  • I’ll Fly When I’m Ready
  • Euphoria

“I never thought I’d get into writing books, let alone children’s books,” said Hayes. “When my siblings started having children, I completely fell in love with my nieces and nephews. Every one of them became my muse in their own way.”

Thriving at HFC the second time around

Hayes spoke about giving higher education another shot, something she confessed she was skeptical about.

“I applied for an internship at Sesame Street. I didn’t get it. That rejection steered me to come back to school to get an education and acquire skills, so that no one would be able to use that as a reason not to hire me when I applied for these jobs,” she explained.

At HFC, Hayes adapted her character, Princess Nellie, into an animated short story. HFC Director of Media Communication Arts Susan McGraw assisted her with writing the script.

“I want to keep it growing so I can reach different audiences,” said Hayes. “I wrote it for a cousin who died from COVID-19 in 2020. She wanted me to write a book about the color pink. Princess Nellie holds a special place in my heart.”

Hayes cited McGraw and her fellow HFC instructors Dr. Tom Hopkins and Courtney Spivak as influential teachers.

“They were so involved and hands-on. I was transparent with them about my epilepsy. They were very patient. Courtney’s energy when she was teaching was very contagious. Susan and Tom helped me with my confidence and helped me grow as an individual. My goal was to stay on the dean’s list the entire time I was at HFC, and I did so because of them,” recalled Hayes.

When Hayes walked across the stage during the 2024 Commencement ceremony to get her diploma, McGraw announced her name and the two hugged, sharing a moment of appreciation.

"Carmen impressed me with her thoughtfulness and passion as a student,” said McGraw. “She worked tirelessly on the most challenging class projects, never shying away from her desire to succeed. She brought a level of dedication and discipline that helped her achieve her goals. I'm so excited to see where Carmen's journey takes her next!"

“I want my words to change lives”

Hayes earned her associate degree in liberal arts with a focus on journalism from HFC. This fall, she will transfer to the University of Michigan-Dearborn, where she will pursue her bachelor’s degree, double-majoring in journalism and media communications.

“Journalism and mass media have interested me for a long time,” she said. “I’ve applied to the local news stations. It’s time to move on. You have to get uncomfortable and put yourself out there. I’m excited for the next journey.”

Hayes is the host of “Reading Stories” for WHFR-FM, HFC’s independent, student-run radio and internet station. Alongside Hopkins, Hayes developed this radio show when she was in his class.

“Professors in the School of Liberal Arts are so amazing. They want to see you succeed. Those are relationships I definitely want to keep,” she said.

Hayes and her older sisters are also backup singers for their mother, Ellen Hayes, an award-winning Gospel singer.

“It feels like we signed a contract at birth; I think that’s how it worked out,” said Hayes, laughing. “I remember when I was really young and served as one of her backup singers on the radio. That was the first time I got to be on the radio.”

Hayes’ long-term goal is to become a writer in different media. She would like to become a screenwriter and a children’s author on a much larger stage.

“The older I get, the more intrigued I am about writing stories and bringing stories to life,” said Hayes. “I want to entertain people. Writing and evoking words is another way of getting an emotion of out person if you can bring it to life for them. I never thought voice was important, but it is, and I want my words to change lives. I want to change lives with every book I write. Anything I can say on any type of platform would be very fulfilling for me.”

Related Content: Carmen Hayes and her sisters singing “Silent Night” with their mother, Ellen Hayes.