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Midvale Journal

Hillcrest honors two outstanding alumni for their service, impact to the community, world

Oct 28, 2020 03:37PM ● By Julie Slama

Nicholas Cockrell, class of 2105, was named Hillcrest’s distinguished young alumni award-winner for his involvement in the community. (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Cockrell)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

A tradition at halftime of the Hillcrest High homecoming game continued this year, although it felt a little different than when it started last year.

The recently formed Hillcrest High Alumni Association honored two outstanding alumni—Christy Baker Ward and Nicholas Cockrell—in front of what normally was anticipated to be a packed crowd at the school’s football game. Instead, attendance was limited in response to COVID-19 and Cockrell opted not to attend the ceremony in light of the pandemic.

“We thought with the construction of the new school and the game, it would be a good time to build upon nostalgia, form the alumni association, and honor outstanding alumni,” said Hillcrest High Alumni Association President Craig Conder, who graduated in 1978. “We anticipated an overflow in the stands and in the new field house, but with COVID, it let all the air out of the balloon.”

However, the Sept. 11 ceremony went on, recognizing Baker Ward, class of 1994, with the distinguished alumni award. 

After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, Baker Ward taught herself how to sew on her mother-in-law’s sewing machine, then made her own scarf to cover her head to wear while going through chemotherapy. 

Two years after her diagnosis, Baker Ward decided to create the scarves for others who were undergoing treatments in all 50 states. One year later, she sent the last scarves to the final five states—and also reached survivors in Canada and Australia—three years to the day from her original diagnosis. To date, Baker Ward will still sew and send some scarves to those who request them.

“What I do is offer hope,” she said. “I was doing it anonymously and having fun sewing.”

Baker Ward said that the project involved others from donations of fabric to making contacts across the United States to deliver to those who needed the scarves. Her original idea was to make 17 chemo scarves, one to represent each of her 17 chemo treatments, but then she had a dream to reach more people who are scared or overwhelmed as they go through treatments.

“Literally, so many people wanted to be a part of CK (her first and middle initials) scarves. I wanted to have a connection; it just adds to the person who is receiving it—by adding connection, I also think it helps me, but it also helps the person who lives in that community,” Baker Ward said, adding that often it was like a Flat Stanley approach, with photographs of the scarves’ trek from her West Jordan basement to the communities they were sent, which she blogged along with her cancer journey. “I like the way I did it. I get to be their cheerleader.”

She also started a Midvale chapter of the non-profit organization, Lifting Hearts, a women’s breast cancer survivor group. She was the volunteer director for more than one year, until the organizers decided to just offer online help.

“Cancer taught me that life is no life unless you love and serve others who are dealing with the same hard times,” Baker Ward said.

The game announcer also outlined many of Cockrell’s accomplishments as the distinguished young alumni award-winner. He graduated from Hillcrest with a 4.0 GPA in 2015 with his international baccalaureate diploma.

While at Hillcrest, he developed a love of activism and civic engagement and has carried that with him through his college days at the University of Utah and now, into his careers. He celebrated social change through participating in theatre and filmmaking, winning several awards from the Canyons Film Festival as well as from the National History Day competition with his documentaries. 

Cockrell graduated this past spring with three majors—history, political science and international studies. He also minored in theatre and campaign management. While in college, he also became more involved in the community through the Utah Division of State History and with the ACLU as well as served as an intern with the state legislature, the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., and the British Parliament.

“I was very lucky that Hillcrest gave me the opportunity to find what I loved early—those things being history and also, political science,” he said. “I developed a deep love of that while I was still in high school and went into college thinking those would be the two things I studied. I continued to love it, and it never faded. I got to do different types of research and different kinds of work that I had never gotten to, so it always felt fresh.”

Cockrell has gone on to tie his interests into working as a multimedia contractor for the ACLU of Utah, a campaign manager for a Utah House of Representatives in his hometown of Draper, and a communication specialist for the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, where he helps people stay connected to their faith during COVID-19.

“I do a number of different things professionally. They all seem sort of disconnected at first, but really it all feels like a community-based job that I get to do with people that I not only agree with, but care about what they are doing,” he said. “The thing that drives me, though, is making sure I can work on issues or purpose that I care about. I think I’ll be in this public sector or nonprofit sphere for the rest of my life, I’m guessing, because I enjoy it and there’s a lot of good to be done.” 

Cockrell is thankful for his years as a Husky and plans to remain active in the Hillcrest High community.

“Hillcrest was such a good community for me. I became so much of who I am while I was there. I found out what I loved, I made friendships that I still lean on to this day,” he said. “It’s my community, I want to make sure other students have the opportunities I had because I had so much support from teachers at Hillcrest and from other faculty advisers.”

Conder said both of the award recipients were nominated based on their work in the community and impact they’ve made on others.

The alumni association, which its formation was announced at the groundbreaking of the new school in 2018, also awards scholarships. This year, four scholarships were awarded at $1,600 to help the graduates attend college. In addition to donations, the association sells sections of the old gymnasium floor to raise scholarship funds. 

The group also has been photographing and videotaping the construction on the Midvale campus and sharing that with its followers on social media.

“It’s a different school than when I was there in the 1970s. I can see a lot of good things happening and I think we can do a lot of good and through getting involved and by offering these scholarships, we can help change people’s lives,” Conder said.

Hillcrest High Alumni Association seeks additional members. To join or to learn more about the association, visit its webpage at