5 Lessons Learned from Disney’s Moana

Maybe I’m biased as a die-hard Disney fan, but I think some of life’s most important values are taught in Disney films. Disney movies have a way of engaging our hearts and souls through their music, characters, and story lines. They truly are magical.

My mother felt that there was no better way to spend the day before Thanksgiving than at the movies with her children and friends to see the newest Disney release: Moana. Now, I had heard only three things about the Moana movie prior to seeing it: Moana was an island girl, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson played a demi-god; and Lin Manuel Miranda did the music and lyrics. Being a huge Hamilton and In the Heights fan, that was a deal breaker.

And boy, was I not disappointed. Through its incredibly catchy songs, vivid animation, and heart-warming story line with the perfect dose of humor, Moana is a movie to see. I would recommend it to anyone who loves a good Disney film. But what impressed me the most about Moana, is how inspiring it is to its viewers, young and old.

Here are some lessons you can take home from Disney’s Moana:

  1. The value of having a close relative: This lesson hit me the hardest. I think anyone can relate to having a special relative or role model in their life that they go to to guide them in life. Moana’s bond with her grandmother reminded me a lot of my bond with my own grandmother. Moana’s grandmother guides her in following her heart and taking chances. Without spoiling the film, I can tell you that her grandmother’s advice plays an important role in the story.
  2. Your heart calls you to where you’re supposed to be: Anyone can relate to that feeling that you belong somewhere else. It’s a common theme in Disney movies; think Tarzan’s quote “I just know there’s something bigger out there” or Tangled “when will my life begin?” For Moana, she feels a longing to travel outside her island but her father’s teachings hold her back. It’s only with the advice of her grandmother that she finally takes a chance in finding where she truly belongs. She chooses her heart over her mind.
  3. You are the reason you are who you are: I really enjoyed the Rock’s performance in this movie. His character Maui is a demi god who claims “he is nothing without his hook”- his magical fish hook that gives him transforming powers. Moana tells him “maybe someone saw you were worth saving” but that no hook or powers made him Maui- he became a hero all on his own.
  4. Everyone has a purpose in life that is not to be questioned: Moana finds herself chosen by the sea to complete an adventure, but spends the movie not knowing why she was chosen. She questions her own abilities, her own choices, her purpose in her life. But what she finds is that whenever she feels like giving up, it doesn’t feel right. Deep inside her a force drives her to keep it up, to keep going. I think anyone can take this advice home. You might not know the answer, but you are on this planet for a very special reason. You have a purpose. Keep going.
  5. Music awakens the soul: Now this is something I very personally took home from this movie. As soon as the first song began, I was taken away. The soundtrack to this movie is filled with inspirational lyrics, pleasurable rhythms, and a beautiful island sound. I truly left the theater in chills from many of Lin Manuel Miranda’s creation. He has done it again. I am truly thankful for music.

So my advice for this Thanksgiving break is:

1. Take your friends and family to see Moana.

2. Make sure you save room for dessert.

3. Remember to stay thankful and celebrate Thanksgiving to the fullest before you head to Black Friday sales.

4. Have a blessed holiday weekend!

Lots of love,



The Perks of Being An Anxious Performer

I know, I know. Anyone who suffers from performance anxiety is looking at this title and saying “Hayley you are out of your mind, there are no perks to being an anxious performer.” I often think this way too, but the truth is you can find something good in everything, even your worst moments. Looking through dark moments in a positive light will reflect your own strengths and leave you feeling overall more positive.

I often feel my anxiety holds me back in my performances, especially when panic is at its highest. This can be true. There have been auditions, rehearsals, and performances where my own anxiousness has prevented my from performing to the best of my ability. What I have come to find is, however, that same nervous energy can be channeled to strengthen your performances and make them even better.

So what are the perks of being an anxious performer?

  1. Every performance is a victory over your own fears. Think about it. Every time your nerves build up before a performance to the point they seem unbearable, you choose to go out there anyway. Whether it be playing a sport, singing, dancing, acting, or simply walking into a class, you are challenging your own fears. And once you do it, you’ve already beaten them. Congratulations little warrior, you’ve won!
  2. Every failure only strengthens you. Kelly Clarkson was right everyone, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That audition you jumbled the words to a song out of your own nervousness? Think back on that when you finish slaying your solo in the school musical. When you were so nervous on the field you scored for the other team? Think back on that when you just score the winning goal at a state championship. You didn’t give up after. That voice in your head that said “You’re passionate about this, keep going” kept you strong.


    picture taken by Susan Cutelis.

  3. Nervous energy can fuel emotional connection. This one is for my fellow singers, actors, and dancers. A performance can be extremely well done, but when it portrays real emotion it can drive someone to tears. All of that nervous energy can be channeled to create a killer performance. I’ll give you an example. I get super nervous too. In Grease, there was one scene I used to get so nervous about where Rizzo sings “There Are Worst Things I Could Do” to Sandy and Sandy had to stand still on stage and just react. It’s easier to hide my nervous energy when I am moving around, but standing still is a struggle for me on stage. Luckily for me, I found a way out. The song immediately afterward is “Look at Me I’m Sandra Dee Reprise.” The stored nerves inside me actually drove me to tears which I used to sing the songs beginning where lines included “when they criticize and make fun of me can’t they see the tears in my smile.” There I thought of my anxiety and how it held me back and when people saw me and didn’t understand they would just laugh or make fun of my fidgeting and twitching. Then with the last line of the song, “hold your head high, take a deep breath and cry ‘Goodbye to Sandra Dee!'” I released all of the bottled up energy and took a deep breath. I was saying goodbye to the fear and the nerves. And I was thanking them, for giving me emotion and for showing me I’m human.

Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)

Stay Strong,


A Cup of Positivi-tea

I dread waking up some mornings, but I’ve come to find that sometimes the slightest moments can bring positive energy to anyone’s day.

So this morning I woke up an hour and a half earlier than I was planning to and found it nearly impossible to fall back to sleep- my head was already running through the course of my day (breakfast, workout, catch the shuttle to class, go to class, get home, go to work,etc.) I opened social media to find nothing but a turmoil of differing opinions so I closed out of it and opened YouTube hoping to catch up on the latest videos of channels I am subscribed to.

That’s when I stumbled across Rclbeauty101’s latest upload (below) titled “Makeup Stereotypes.” For those of you who don’t know her, Rachel Levin is one of YouTube’s beauty gurus who is infamously known for her creative, comical videos of everything under the sun. I always go to her videos for a good laugh. So seeing this upload, I knew my morning was going to be made better; a good laugh was in store for me. However, what I got was even better.

The video addressed a real issue present in society. Creative expression, in makeup or clothes, is being mistaken for extreme insecurity, promiscuity, or as it is put in the video “asking for it”. “Wow you try so hard” is the response me and many others receive when we simply wear a stylish outfit or feel like wearing makeup. People get interrogated when they aren’t wearing makeup and when they are wearing makeup. Why don’t you add more blush, you’re so pale? Why are you hiding behind all that makeup? Are you going on a date or to the grocery store? etc.  Instead of encouraging people to be themselves and express their own creative genius, we are stomping on their attempts. We need to spread positivity to others.

Rachel once again uploaded a very real and touching video. Another video of hers, uploaded a few months ago, changed my outlook on self-love. It was titled in all caps “I AM UGLY.” Immediately I was curious and what I watched changed my life. I have always felt self-love to be one of the most important struggles of humanity. It’s so hard to accomplish- we are constantly bashing ourselves for little things, finding little flaws, developing several insecurities. It’s so easy to bring yourself down. I know I did and sometimes still do. I remember going home in junior high crying because girls thought I was too nice and therefore too weak: an easy target for bullying. I was mad at my own kindness. Mad at the way I looked. Even in high school and to this day, I’ll get mad at how I look some days or mad at my anxiety, my carelessness.

But Rachel put self love in an entirely new perspective. Her video teaches people to pause before they make a negative comment about themselves and to picture saying this negative comment to your younger self. All of a sudden I was looking back to junior high and picturing how I would feel if I would’ve told my thirteen year old self to stop being myself. I picture telling my five year old self that I’m too much of an anxious mess to perform or that I’m not thin enough or fit enough. Like I said, it’s so much easier to bring yourself down than lift your spirits. It’s often said that a child can one’s perspective on life. Little did I know that child could be my younger self.

Using Rachel’s technique has made self-love a little easier. My hopes are only that sharing this video and her last video will change the way people view others and themselves. Right now it seems everyone is on edge with each other. So much hate is being spread.

Take a sip from a cup of positiv-tea and pass it along. Watch the love pour out.



Loss and Living On

Today, I share with you the essay that helped get me into college. I always believed a good essay should come from the heart in a way that the reader can sense the passion behind your words. So I wrote about losing two of the people that inspired me the most but focused not on loss, but on the importance of living on after loss and letting their memories live on as well. Thanks for reading.

A wise person once said, “Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life.” I don’t think this is ever thought about by anyone who takes that small step forward- that little step that, in time, marks their transition into maturity, into adulthood, into themselves. I think these people go into their projects with a checklist with one blank box next to their goal: to make a difference. At least, that’s how it was for me.
Growing up, I rarely experienced loss. I have this huge, close-knit family and we do
everything together. I had that childhood where grandparents visited daily. My grammy always lived across the street from me, and my pepere lived close enough I’d wake up to see him downstairs sipping coffee. When I started performing in plays and talent shows, my grandparents were always there encouraging me. They were always there for me until they couldn’t be.
That’s what hit me the hardest in high school. I lost both of my heros. My grammy
passed away from cancer the fall of my freshman year, and it truly didn’t sink in until the
following spring when something happened to me. I was sitting watching my older sister
perform in a play when I became restless; I was sweating and struggling to breathe. This episode occurred again when I was singing in my church choir. I looked out at the crowd and thought I was going to pass out. These panic attacks grew worse and began to happen regularly: in the halls, in classes, during more performances. Every day for me was a battle against fear. When my anxiety was at its peak during my sophomore year, I lost my pepere who had cirrhosis from exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. More loss meant more panic. I needed a new way to cope.

Top: Roger Cote stands before the Vietnam Wall in D.C.. Bottom: Roger Cote’s grave on Veteran’s Day.

I had a family friend whose nephew committed suicide due to PTSD. He was a veteran
and, like my pepere, had died from an illness resulting from war. In many ways I saw myself in my friend’s nephew and the many other veterans living with PTSD. They were suffering episodes of panic similar to that of mine, only worse. I wanted to help them, and a little voice in the back of my mind said maybe helping them could help me. And that is when I came up with the idea for the Roger A. Cote Run for Courage. My aunt and I dreamed of hosting a run or walk in memory of my pepere and the dream became a reality. With the aid of BNS Event Management, we held our first annual 5K race on June 14, 2015.

A young Roger Cote in his Navy uniform.

The morning of the race, I set up t-shirts and raffle stands and scanned the parking lots.
Could this work? Friends and family came, our dozen volunteers helped out, and the runners began to show- 120 runners surpassed our goal of seventy five. Some said my pepere wouldn’t have wanted anyone to make a big deal out of his passing. “Just honk your horn and wave as you pass by my grave,” he would say. But maybe the truth is, it isn’t so much for him as it is a coping mechanism for my family and me. The money raised would go to Operation Homefront, an organization that financially assisted wounded veterans. We were helping people like my pepere and my friend’s nephew overcome their illnesses. At the same time, I was overcoming mine.

Roger’s grandchildren and wife Rita at the 2nd Annual Roger A. Cote Run for Courage.

I grabbed the microphone and in a shaky, but strong voice, counted off “READY, SET,-”
and the power behind my words was almost unrecognizable; it was the sound of a familiar voice that had been hidden under panic and fear for so long. In complete control, I took a small step toward the crowd: “GO!”…
…And it was the biggest step of my life. Making a difference? Check.
Happy Birthday Pepere!
Your Granddaughter