When Cheryl Bassett first stepped foot on the campus of Westfield State University in Westfield, Massachusetts, more than 30 years ago, two things were certain -- she wanted to pursue a career in criminal justice and she wanted to play softball.
The latter was an easy choice. Growing up in Springfield, Massachusetts, and later in nearby East Longmeadow, she was always involved in sports, whether it was basketball, soccer or softball. Bassett would become a star shortstop for Westfield State, earning Academic All-American honors. However, the interest in a career in criminal justice and law enforcement came out of left field, so much so that when Bassett looks back on it, she’s not sure where that interest came from.
It ended up being the right choice. Bassett’s career has grown from its infancy in 1989 as an investigator with the U.S. Department of Labor in Massachusetts to her current role as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Domestic Operations Chief where she is responsible for managing and coordinating all operational and administrative activities initiated in 56 HSI offices along the Southwest border.
And more than 30 years later, after starting her journey as a freshman, Bassett recently returned to her alma mater to be inducted in the Westfield State University Criminal Justice Hall of Fame.
“I was very humbled when I got the news. I couldn’t believe it,” Bassett said. “It is a great university for criminal justice, so I worked really hard when I was there, and I’ve worked really hard in my career. It was very humbling to be singled out to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I was pleasantly surprised.”
Bassett was one of 11 inductees in the 2017 class. The second annual ceremony honored Westfield State graduates who have excelled in their law enforcement careers and made a significant impact on a local, national or international level. Bassett was presented with a plaque from the university president, Dr. Ramon Torrecilha.
While the day was memorable and the honor was appreciated, the joy that Bassett experienced in returning to Westfield State and being inducted into the Hall of Fame in front of family and close friends quickly turned to grief as that afternoon, her mother passed away after a courageous seven-month battle with lung cancer.
“Everyone from my family was there except for her because she just couldn’t make it,” Bassett said. “It was bittersweet because I know that she was there, but she just wasn’t physically there. I really believe she waited to pass until the ceremony was over so that we would all still attend.”
Coming to grips with her mother’s passing remains tough for Bassett. She finds solace in knowing that her mom was proud of her achievements in her law enforcement career. Having grown up in a small town with people who traditionally stayed in the area, Bassett’s experiences leading ICE operations in Brazil and Bolivia was a source of admiration for her late mother.
“She was my biggest fan,” Bassett said. “When she was close to passing she told me ‘with your sports and your job, you have made me very proud.’”
Bassett’s return to Massachusetts brought with it a wide range of emotions, but it mostly reminded her of how far she’s come in life and in her career. Having grown up as the daughter of parents who didn’t finish high school to now being recognized as a Hall of Famer in her field, Bassett has maximized the opportunities that have come her way.
There’s no question that choosing criminal justice was the right choice.
“To think that I came from the city of Springfield, with a family that never had a college attendee, let alone a graduate to this day is amazing,” Bassett said. “I don’t want kids coming up now to stay inside their bubble and comfort zone. It took me a while to break out of it, but once I did, the possibilities were endless.”