March Extraordinary Leader: From Christmas Elf to Future Army Doctor

Matthew Sayger still has the notecard.  

He used it recently when he spoke four times over two consecutive Saturdays to several hundred incoming Presidential Scholars and their families.

At first, he was nervous. He had never done anything like that before. But then he started thinking about his life at HPU.

He’s a University Ambassador. He’s in a fraternity, researched with a chemistry professor and played an elf during HPU’s Community Christmas celebration. As a Cadet Command Sgt. Major, he’s led 100 Army ROTC students from HPU and four area colleges and universities.

Six-year-old Matt (lower right) smiles for a family photo that now sits on the mantle at their house.

And he did that before daybreak three days a week.

So, he knew what to say. He wrote down a few bullet points, and in front of a crowd where he knew no one, he told them about HPU.

“I’m a completely different person because of the people here,” he said.

Two months before he graduates and enters the Army, Sayger has been selected HPU’s Extraordinary Leader for March.

At first glance, you’d think leadership is part of Sayger’s DNA.

His dad, a 20-year Navy veteran, is the public works director for their hometown of Havelock, North Carolina. His mom is a college professor. His younger brother, James, is a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy.

But really, Sayger discovered his leadership potential at HPU.

He’ll tell you that. It’s on his notecard.



Lessons in Leadership

It’s 4 a.m., and Sayger is already up.

He slips into his Army fatigues, and he’s out the door for a 30-minute drive north for physical training at North Carolina A&T University.

Once he arrives, Sayger brings his fellow soldiers into formation. Then, they begin. They can flip big truck tires, crawl through mud and sand, run a couple of miles or trot a mile with a 40-pound pack on their backs.

An hour later, they finish. Sayger dismisses his college troops and heads back to campus for a quick shower and his first class. Sometimes, his first class starts at 7:50 a.m.

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning, Sayger did just that – wake up, drive, crawl, lift and run. For three years.

The why is easy. Sayger comes from a family of soldiers and sailors. So, at HPU, he joined Army ROTC.  He became a platoon leader, a first sergeant and finally, a sergeant major.

Sayger and his fraternity brothers raised $18,000 during two bike-a-thons at the Wanek Center on HPU’s campus.

But that was just the beginning.

He joined Pi Kappa Phi and became one of the fraternity’s leaders. He once rode a stationary bike with his fraternity brothers for three hours straight at the Wanek Center, and they began an hour after midnight.

After two 24-hour bike-a-thons, Sayger and his fraternity brothers have raised $18,000 for people with disabilities.

He has volunteered twice for HPU’s annual Community Christmas celebration. The first year, he directed people. The second year, he handed out gifts near Santa. That year, a 5-year-old sprinted toward him from 20 yards away and barreled into his knees, hugging him.

It reminded Sayger of his own Christmas excitement as a 5-year-old. He wrote letters in crayon to Santa hoping for a bike. He got it.

Other than finding the fun in volunteering, Sayger also has found the future in his studies. He thought he’d major in business. He’ll graduate in May with degrees in chemistry and biology and a minor in mathematics.

He wants to become an Army doctor.

“I want to give back,” he says.



The Meaning Behind a Bible Verse

At HPU, Sayger also discovered research. Since his sophomore year, he has helped Dr. Todd Knippenberg, an assistant professor of chemistry, investigate alternative fuels.

Knippenberg remembers how it started — Sayger walking into his office, asking about research and telling him he wanted to help. That’s all it took. Sayger became part of HPU’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program, better known as SuRPS.

Since then, Knippenberg has been Sayger’s academic advisor, his mentor and his guide for his senior research paper Sayger wrote about the link between cancer and the hormone melatonin.

Sayger and his brother, James, with their mom, Susan, during a summer vacation at the Colosseum in Rome.

He also is the professor of Sayger’s 7:50 a.m. classes.

“He’s shown a real willingness to jump in feet first,” Knippenberg says. “Not every student has that drive.”

Sayger felt he needed to be like that.  He’s reminded of it when he works as a University Ambassador. He always starts out his tours at the Hayworth Fine Arts Center, and every time, he looks up. On the ceiling is the Bible verse from the Book of Luke, chapter 12, verse 48.

“To whom much is given, much will be required.”

Sayger believes that.




Sayger has volunteered the past two years during HPU’s Community Christmas celebration. Here, he stands with HPU student Chris Peterson (left) for a photo with Santa.

HPU: Sayger’s Place of Purpose

At his bedroom desk, underneath the trio of flags of North Carolina, Pi Kappa Phi and Army Strong, Sayger keeps in a drawer a set of field artillery pins.

The pins, he says, reminds him of his life after college. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, Sayger will start his career this summer at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, as a field artillery officer, and he plans to enroll in medical school in four years.

At his desk, Sayger also has his notecard from his speech. He’ll probably keep it.

“Every time I pull this out, it reminds me of High Point University,” he says. “They really invested in me.”


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