February’s Extraordinary Leader: A Risk-Taker, A Fundraiser, A Friend

His fraternity brothers know him as “Espo,” the business-savvy senior from Illinois.

As the fraternity’s president, he helped steer a Kappa Alpha fund drive that raised more than $50,000 in one year to buy all-terrain wheelchairs for two disabled veterans. He and his fraternity brothers will give away the second wheelchair Saturday.

As a friend, he stood behind the pulpit at the Hayworth Chapel, and in front of the biggest audience he ever addressed, he eulogized a fraternity brother who died in a traffic accident.

In doing so, Michael Esposito experienced the highs and lows of life during a three-year span at HPU that he says he’ll remember for the rest of his life.

Esposito is HPU’s Extraordinary Leader for the month of February.

And until he moved in, he had never stepped foot on campus. So, how did he discover HPU?

In a book. And a phone call.

 

‘The Right Thing’

Mike with Steven and Melissa Esposito right after his mom married Steven.

Esposito wasn’t happy.

He was attending a small school 15 minutes from his home in Libertyville, Illinois, outside Chicago. He lived at home, commuted to school and didn’t feel connected. So, he called a friend from high school, his date from the senior prom.

She told him about High Point University because a friend of hers had looked to play lacrosse there. First, Michael found a “big book of colleges” at a local bookstore and researched HPU.

Then, he called.

He got Joe Cristy, the director of admissions recruitment, on the phone. They talked baseball and school. Esposito liked what he heard. A week later, Esposito applied to High Point University. Two months later, he got the news: He was in.

But he had never been to North Carolina. Plus, the only person he knew there was a friendly voice on the phone.

But he came. His family followed. It was the biggest leap of his life. But he was ready. His mom, Melissa, noticed.

Michael was her only child, and after her  divorce, it was just the two of them together for at least four years before she married Steven Esposito when Michael was a sixth-grader.

So, at the hotel before she left, she hugged him and held back tears. She knew.

“I know this is the right thing for you,” she said.

 

 

Sgt. Mike Verardo; Tommy Rieman, executive director of the Independence Fund, Mike and his dad.

Hard Work Pays Off

Right after he came, Esposito sought out Cristy.

“I’m so excited to walk through these doors,” he told him.

Soon afterward, Esposito rushed Kappa Alpha. The KAs were new to HPU’s campus, and Esposito liked the guys. He joined. Two years later, he became the president and started a fundraising campaign HPU will remember for quite awhile.

Esposito wanted to do more than raise money for an organization. He wanted to raise money for people. And sparked by two friends he knew in the military, Esposito wanted to raise money for disabled veterans.

Esposito and his fraternity brothers teamed up with the Independence Fund, a non-profit in Charlotte, North Carolina, and started Operation KARE.

Esposito asked advice from his stepfather, the man he calls “Dad.” Steven Esposito works in wealth management and had created Heal Team 6, a family-run non-profit that raises money for local charities in northern Illinois.

Michael Esposito and his fraternity brothers then got to work. They had no idea what they could raise — maybe $3,000 or so. They ended up raising $27,000 and getting shout-outs from Fox personality Bill O’Reilly and “Fox & Friends.”

All to buy what’s known as a Track Chair for Army Sgt. Mike Verardo.

 

 

A Campaign Grows

Kappa Alpha fraternity with Sgt. Mike Verardo.

Verardo, a married father of two in his 20s, had lost his left leg fighting in Afghanistan.

Verardo came to campus from his home in Charlotte, walked to his new chair with the help of his cane and prosthetic leg and told the crowd around him, “It’s inspiring to see 60 frat boys get up there and do something.”

On Saturday afternoon in Phillips Hall, KA will do it all again. This time, the fraternity raised $25,000 to buy a Track Chair for Marine P.J. Glavey, a fraternity brother’s cousin from Colorado who lost both his legs fighting in Afghanistan.

In a year, HPU’s KA chapter has raised $52,000 from 306 donors who gave anywhere from $7 to $1,000.

 “It’s really started to sink in,” Esposito says. “We’ve realized what we’ve done really matters.”

 

 

Steven Esposito, Melissa Esposito, Ruthann, Mike’s grandmother; Stephanie, Mike’s sister and him.

Lessons Learned, Memories Made

In May, Esposito will graduate with a degree in business administration and a minor in sales and will leave with many memories. One is tough. It’s about Mario Mayorga, his fraternity brother and friend.

Mayorga died in a traffic accident in April 2015. He was 19.  Three days later, after finishing his eulogy at 4 a.m., Esposito stood before a big crowd inside the chapel and spoke about his friend with the constant smile who called him “Espo.’’

Esposito had never done that before. But he had never raised any money before, let alone  $52,000.

But he did it at HPU.

“I feel like I jumped in the deep end without a life preserver when I came to High Point,” he says. “But it’s been a success beyond my wildest imaginations. I’ve learned here you can’t be afraid.”

 

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