Michelle Mayo has both arms half covered in tattoos. Conner Kreider has a small phrase in Hebrew tattooed on his wrist and a rhino near his collarbone. Morgan McCloughan has a white feather on her left forearm and two pine trees on her right shoulder. Alum Kaeley Osterman has a magnolia blossom inked on her side.
Tattoos aren’t common on HU’s campus. Each of these people, however, got their ink for a reason — some to remind them of what they’ve been through, and some to keep themselves focused on where they’re going.
Osterman only has one tattoo, but it means a lot to her. She got it in 2016, one year after her grandmother died.
“I have always struggled with depression,” she said, “and that plunged me into a very dark time. I fought deep depression with anxiety attacks, self-harm and thoughts of suicide.”
God, friends and family helped her deal with her struggles. The magnolia blossom reminds Osterman that she’s “strong and beautiful.” To this day, it still helps her get through tough times.
McCloughan also struggled with depression. Every day, her mom would draw a feather on her wrist to remind her that her problems were light and something that God would take care of. When she turned 18, she got a feather tattooed on her left forearm to remind her of that.
Her second tattoo is also family related. She and her brother got two pine trees together when he turned eighteen.
“We are very different people, but we are rooted from the same place,” McClughan said. “Both of the tattoos are reminders of my family and the things I have gone through with them,” McCloughan said.
Kreider’s tattoos are grounded in his faith. His first tattoo says “I am not a slave for my sins” in Hebrew. It’s marked on his wrist, and he said it is a “reminder that my hands have a lot of power, in reference to temptation and being able to resist that.”
His second tattoo is a rhino. He had it done during his sophomore year and, interestingly enough, it didn’t originally have a meaning. After meeting a man who planted a church in Africa, however, he found a meaning for it.
“When a rhino is standing still, it can only see thirty feet in front of its face,” Kreider said. “When it’s charging, it’s basically blindly going at whatever it’s going at. That’s how I want to pursue Christ.”
Mayo, a Marine veteran, has the most tattoos of all. Like many Marines, she accumulated a diverse collection of tattoos. Some are related to her service, but most of them found their way onto her skin because of hardships she experienced.
A box on her upper left arm represents a lot of the anxiety and nervousness she felt when she was in the service.
“I had a lot of trouble being anxious,” she said. “Just like, nervous and really paranoid once I got into the Marine Corps. My boss was just like, ‘Hey man, take this little shit you’re going through and put it in this box. Try not to think about it during the day, you can deal with it whenever you want to deal with it.’”
Another tattoo on her upper right arm depicts a pair of boots with a rifle and helmet in front of an American flag. Mayo got this tattoo after watching “The Pacific,” a TV show about Marines during World War II.
“It made me realize that there’s so many people before that sacrificed for us,” she said. “People are always thinking of us, but I go around and I thank other veterans. You could’ve gone to college, you could’ve got married and started your life, but you gave up that time for me.”
Her latest tattoo is related to her old habit of self harm. It’s a series of lines down her left arm and was inspired by her wife. She gave Mayo an ultimatum —stop self harming, or she was going to leave.
“It took about two and a half hours,” she said. “It turned out really nice. If I’m ever feeling pretty bad, I can just look down at that tattoo and think, ‘Hey, you’ve already suffered through the pain with this tattoo, and the last couple of years, you’ve worked through it.’ I’m in a much better place in my life.”