Isla McGlauflin came to High Point University with two suitcases.
She came alone. She had to.
A huge snowstorm was expected to blanket the East Coast, and she and her mom cancelled their 14-hour drive to campus from their home in upstate New York. McGlauflin then boarded a plane, ahead of the snowstorm, and arrived in North Carolina in January 2017.
She had spent a year studying music at another school in Virginia. But the school sapped her longtime love for music. She withdrew, took a few college classes back home, and with four scholarships helping cover her tuition, she transferred to High Point University.
She knew only one person — her boyfriend, Michael Dreher.
That has changed. McGlauflin has a constellation of friends. She’s also taken on leadership positions, made the dean’s list, reaffirmed her faith, been inducted into two honor societies and rediscovered her love for music.
All in 2 ½ years.
McGlauflin is HPU’s Extraordinary Leader for the month of February. McGlauflin will graduate in May with a degree in psychology. And she’ll graduate on time.
She is a hard worker, no doubt about that. But it’s bigger than that.
High Point University showed her she wasn’t wrong.
A Tough Move
McGlauflin was terrified when she came to campus.
“If I didn’t succeed in Virginia,” she thought to herself, “what makes me think I can succeed here?”
McGlauflin had always been a planner, and she had been immersed in music since age 5. Before she graduated from high school, she has performed in more than 30 musicals, and as a soprano, she had been selected to all-state chorus and had sung in six different choirs in and around Lake George, New York.
Music was like breathing to McGlauflin. Yet, when she left her picturesque hometown ensconced in the Adirondack Mountains, she found her music studies in Virginia were all about being perfect.
She sang for at least eight hours a day, and she competed against students from other schools as well as her own. Meanwhile, she found her professors distant, the campus unaccommodating, and she felt lost. It was too much. She left.
She knew HPU. She had visited several times to see Dreher, her high school sweetheart, and when she came, she found a totally different campus. She was enamored by the friendly people, the campus beauty and students who talked about professors always being helpful.
Yet, during those first days of January 2017, her fear nearly paralyzed her. She was starting over, at a new school with a new major. So, she did what she had done her whole life.
She got busy.
“A Unique Sense of Maturity”
She first joined the Phi Mu sorority and started helping inductees know the creed, understand the history and enjoy the fun during the time between a bid and initiation. She later became the sorority’s secretary and honor committee chairwoman.
She also became a member of the Board of Stewards and learned about the importance of service firsthand. She got involved with raising money for the Christian non-profit West End Ministries as well as finding Christmas gifts for children identified by the Salvation Army.
During that time, she got to know the Rev. Preston Davis, the minister of the university. Davis got to know her, too.
“To do what she’s done just wows me,” Davis says. “Transferring is hard in college. Friend groups are already formed, and what Isla has been able to do shows a unique sense of maturity about her.”
Just a few months after she arrived on campus, she ran for secretary of the Student Government Association. Dreher, her boyfriend and Chief Justice of SGA, ran for SGA president.
Dreher lost; McGlauflin won.
She is still the SGA secretary, and she sits on its executive board. She also serves on the Senior Giving Campaign Committee, which fosters conversations with students about the importance of supporting HPU financially and helping future students thrive.
McGlauflin believes that. Music helped her believe that.
Or really, Dr. Marc Foster helped her believe that.
One “Beautiful” Moment
Although she still felt emotionally bruised by her experience in Virginia, McGlauflin missed music and missed singing. That’s how she found out about the University Singers.
The group didn’t require an audition. She simply joined. She later auditioned for the Chapel Choir and got in. Then she got up the nerve to audition for the Chamber Singers, the group that sang on campus and around the world.
In December 2017, she tried out for the group’s one available soprano slot. She didn’t get it. But Dr. Foster, the chair of HPU’s Department of Music and director of choral activities, encouraged her to try out again in the spring.
“Keep doing what you’re doing,” he told her. “There will be a place for you.”
McGlauflin took Foster’s advice. She had been taking voice lessons from Dr. Melanie Crump, an HPU instructor in voice. So, she felt good. Still, she felt her nerves that afternoon in April when she walked into Dr. Foster’s office in the Hayworth Fine Arts Center.
Foster asked her to sight read a song. McGlauflin had always hated sight reading, and she thought she’d tank her audition because she felt she wasn’t any good at it. Foster, though, saw it differently.
“Do you know that song?” Foster asked at the end.
“No,” McGlauflin responded nervously.
“Well,” Foster said, “that was beautiful.”
A week later, McGlauflin got the word. She made the Chamber Singers, and that opportunity gave her the chance to sing at commencement, convocation as well as nationwide and around the world.
She was back with, as she says, “my people.”
“I remember going up to sing for convocation last summer,” McGlauflin says. “Just the excitement of waiting in Roberts Hall and getting ready to go out and sing — that energy is so cool. You hit that cool chord, and there’s nothing better about that feeling.”
The Personal Touch of HPU
HPU helped her find more than that “cool chord.” HPU helped her rediscover her confidence. She knew she could succeed.
She now doesn’t want to be a music therapist. She wants to get her master’s and be a high school guidance counselor who helps students, especially those who feel lost. She remembers how it feels, and she’ll never forget how High Point University made her feel.
“This school has helped me grow so much,” she says. “As a young Girl Scout, I learned you have to leave a place better than you found it, and High Point has given so much to me, and you want the students after you to have just as good an experience.”
So, she helps raise money for the university. It’s because of music, Phi Mu, SGA, Board of Stewards, three choirs and professors like Dr. Foster.
“You are a person here rather than just a body, and that’s incredibly helpful, especially when you’re from far away,” she says. “At home, parents help you feel safe and secure. Here, professors and staff help you feel safe and secure. So, you learn better; you grow.”