March Extraordinary Leaders: Success Beyond The Promenade

Joshua Gilstrap and Kelsey Thompson have much in common.

They’re the oldest of two, they’re both Presidential Scholars and they both look at the Kester International Promenade as a place of memory and impact.

Now, they have another link. They’ve both been picked as HPU’s Extraordinary Leaders for the month of March.

Gilstrap is a junior; Thompson, a senior. They both have given much to HPU. But what have they discovered about themselves?


Finding A New Life At HPU

Joshua Gilstrap

Joshua Gilstrap

Gilstrap walked with his mom past the statues of Mark Twain and Leonardo da Vinci and listened to the classical music flowing from the speakers overhead.

He saw in front of him an expanse of grass stretching toward a big water fountain. In his hometown of Colorado Springs, Colorado, all Gilstrap ever saw was grass that was greenish brown grass, as brittle as a dried leaf.

But at HPU, he and his mom saw a shamrock-green promenade as long as a football field. He had never seen anything like that in his hometown.

“This is the one isn’t it?’’ his mom asked him.

She knew. So did her son.

Three years ago, Gilstrap came to North Carolina as an intelligent, but shy teenager. At first, he kept to himself and kept in his mind deep thoughts about rhetoric, literature and seven years of Latin.

Now, at 21, Gilstrap is the Chief of Staff for the Student Government Association, and he works as a student intern in the school’s Office of Information Technology.

And yes, he has heard someone say more than once: “The screen is black! What do I do?’’

Gilstrap fixes it. He is a code-creating whiz who spent six months with SGA President Greyson Whitaker creating an electronic version that expedited the SGA’s bill submission process.

Last week, Gilstrap found out he was elected the SGA President for next year. He’ll succeed Whitaker, his best friend who’ll graduate in May. Gilstrap ran unopposed.

He still finds himself in his mind.  He’s a double major in computer science and philosophy, and he can quote Socrates and likes to tackle in class such questions “What is justice?’’

So, it’s no wonder he wants to become a lawyer. And it’s no wonder he received the John D. Idol Memorial Scholarship in the school’s philosophy department as well as a spot in HPU’s Honors Program.

But he now doesn’t shy away from a crowd. Gilstrap ran for SGA president because he wanted to lead. He enjoys tackling abstract ideas and finding ways to make things – and people – work better together.

“I’m continuing to find out who I am,’’ Gilstrap says. “High Point University is helping me do that.’’


Her Deep Well of Empathy

Kelsey Thompson

Kelsey Thompson

As a resident assistant on campus, Kelsey Thompson has heard the stories.

She worked at McEwen Hall her sophomore year, and the past two years, she has worked at the University Center 2. At both residence halls, she became a surrogate sister to many female students.

For one freshman, Thompson helped her navigate being away from her mom battling a health scare. The mom got better, and Thompson and the freshman became friends. The two are still close today.

That is one story of many. Always, Thompson listened. For her, that talent came from small-town North Carolina.

She grew up 30 minutes north of HPU in Whitsett, population 610. There, she was crowned homecoming queen, selected as the co-captain of her school’s tennis team and became a member of a high school graduating class of 24.

In May, her graduation class will be larger than the number of people living in her hometown. But before she leaves HPU, she knows she’ll take with her a degree in interior design – and a job.

Last week, Thompson accepted a job as a showroom designer with Klaussner Home Furnishings in Asheboro, North Carolina.

Of course, she’s excited. But she’ll miss HPU. She came to HPU because of its family-oriented atmosphere, and here, she did find family. But she brought with her a sense of empathy she developed far beyond Whitsett.

At age 12, Thompson went to China with her parents to adopt a daughter. At age 13, she went on a one-week mission trip to a poverty-stricken section of West Virginia. She went for five straight summers.

The summer after her freshman year, she escorted her mother to her first chemotherapy session. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her mother beat it, and she’s better. Thompson is better, too.

She can walk onto the third floor of McEwen and think of stories she has heard or she can step onto the promenade and remember so many scenes from her freshman year.

It’s been worth it. Last year, Thompson was named Female Veteran RA of the Year. But for her, it’s not just the accolades.

“School is important,’’ she says. “You get a degree, get a job and make money. But if you’re not looking beyond yourself, what is the point?’’

With her new job, she’ll design showrooms in High Point, Chicago and Las Vegas, and at 22, she will have achieved one of her life’s goals. She can thank her dad for that.

He’s a project engineer for an international company. But he also designs houses on the side, and in the past, when he visited a random house under construction, he would take his oldest daughter with him.

Those visits sparked Thompson’s early interest in art, design and function. Thompson honed those skills at HPU. The same goes for her empathy.

In halls across campus, in places as unassuming as a dorm room, she has realized one universal truth: The world can always use a little more kindness, one more listening ear.

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