Kirby Hutcheson called her mom right away.
Hutcheson had just started classes at High Point University, and she wanted to share with her a first. Hutcheson had decided to run for a freshman class representative spot on HPU’s Student Government Association.
Her mom couldn’t believe it.
“Who is this?” Hutcheson’s mom responded incredulously. “And who am I speaking to?”
Hutcheson had never been a leader ever. But this time, she felt it. She followed the advice of her sister, Jordan, HPU Class of 2017, who told her she needed to take chances in college to succeed.
But did she win?
“Absolutely,” Hutcheson says, smiling.
Since then, Hutcheson has taken on a raft of positions and responsibilities: HPU’s Attorney General, SGA Vice President, a member of the Student Conduct Board and a University Ambassador, the first face many families see when they tour the university.
She also has spent the past four years working with Big Brothers Big Sister of the Central Piedmont tutoring students once a week at elementary schools near campus.
She is HPU’s Extraordinary Leader for the month of April.
In May, she’ll graduate with a degree in criminal justice with a minor in Spanish. In July, two days after she turns 22, she’ll marry her high school sweetheart. After a honeymoon in Alaska, she’ll begin the rest of her life.
HPU, Hutcheson says, helped her find her life.
“I had lost hope in everything,” she says. “Then, I came here.”
HPU: A Place of Belonging
Hutcheson was no stranger to HPU.
She grew up in Charlotte, the youngest of three daughters. Her dad, Jeff, is an endodontist; her mom, Stephanie, a homemaker. Her oldest sister, Alex, graduated from HPU in 2013 with an art degree, and her older sister, Jordan, graduated four years later with a degree in exercise science.
Because of her sisters, Hutcheson knew the campus. She visited her sisters, and her parents enjoyed listening to HPU President Dr. Nido Qubein, a man they admired for making HPU a “God, family, country school.”
Hutcheson liked that, too.
She describes herself as an “unapologetic Christian.” She grew up in Back Creek Presbyterian Church, and she attended Southlake Christian Academy, founded by the Southlake Presbyterian Church in Huntersville, a town just north of Charlotte.
But high school was hard on Hutcheson. She felt invisible. Then came her senior year.
Her school’s headmaster and the founding pastor of Southlake Presbyterian pleaded guilty in federal court and were sent to prison for embezzling more than $10 million over a 13-year period from Southlake Christian Academy.
Those revelations crushed Hutcheson. She saw Southlake Christian Academy as a “homegrown, mom-and-pop school.” After the crimes became public, she saw FBI agents at school, news trucks in the parking lot and journalists interviewing parents in the carpool line.
Hutcheson became cynical about authority and Christianity, and she questioned everything. She asked, “Who is the God who would let this happen?”
That’s when she visited HPU. Her cynicism dissipated, her faith grew stronger, and she discovered something deeper.
“I was scared about college and nervous about that new part of my life, but at High Point, I found this feeling of belonging, just an overwhelming kindness,” she says. “High Point figuratively and literally opened their arms and made me feel safe.”
Once classes started, that didn’t stop.
“I found there was more than just one person investing in my life,” Hutcheson says. “The fact that my freshman success coach checked in on me when I missed class, that was insane to me. I kept thinking, ‘Holy cow, people want me to succeed.’”
Educating A Servant Leader
Every Friday morning for the past two years, Hutcheson has seen a little girl named Na’Ashyia.
Hutcheson would go to Johnson Street Global Studies, an elementary school a few miles from campus, and she’d help Na’Ashyia with her math and reading. They’d sit in the library, going over something like addition and subtraction, and Hutcheson would urge her on.
“Na’Ashyia, you did it!” Hutcheson would say, high-fiving her. “Yes, you did it! You got the math problem right.”
Hutcheson’s penchant for helping others first took root in high school. For three summers, she volunteered at a camp for adults with special needs. So, when she came to HPU, she looked for more ways to volunteer.
With SGA members, she stuffed hundreds of Christmas stockings for local children in need with the gifts they bought. She later encouraged HPU students to write thank-you notes to HPU employees, even walking around Slane Student Center, handing them a note and picking it up later.
Then there is the city’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program. That’s how she met Na’Ashyia. Hutcheson was Na’Ashyia’s “Big;” Na’Ashyia was Hutcheson’s “Little.”
“It wasn’t one of those things I signed up for to look good on a resume,” Hutcheson says. “That wasn’t the motivation. It was to help students like Na’Ashyia, and she gave me so much perspective. She showed me the value of kind words.”
That attitude doesn’t surprise Dr. Thomas Dearden, assistant professor of criminal justice. Hutcheson has taken four classes with Dearden, and for the past year, she has worked with him using Google trends to research crime data.
“Kirby does things because it’s the right thing to do,” he says.
Dearden was reminded of that a few weeks back when he, Hutcheson and four other HPU students drove to Baltimore for a conference sponsored by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences.
Hutcheson and another HPU student, Jessica Vedrani, gave a poster presentation of their crime-data research. But what Dearden noticed was a call Hutcheson took during their ride. It was from a student coming before the university’s conduct board.
It wasn’t what Hutcheson said that caught Dearden’s attention. It was how she handled the call. To describe the exchange, Dearden uses these three words: tact, grace and kindness.
“I have no concerns about Kirby’s future,” he says. “She’ll be fine.”
Ask Hutcheson about her fingernail polish, and she’ll talk about sunshine.
Her fingernails are the color of mustard. She wears that color to remind her of her study aboard last summer at the University of Stirling in Scotland, a country where she didn’t see much sunshine at all.
She studied photography and Scottish literature and interned with the Central Scotland Regional Equality Council. Her study abroad experience is an example, she says, of the lessons she learned at HPU. She’ll use them forever.
“It’s the life skills,” she says. “People take that for granted. I’ve had cousins go to these massive universities where they didn’t see a professor until their sophomore year, but my freshman year, I sat in the same room with our president and he shared his skills with us.
“Now, I hear people say, ‘You’ve done what?’ I know that sets me apart.”
On July 27, she will marry Andrew Naspinski. He played baseball at a college in Tennessee, majored in economics, and they both met their sophomore year in high school.
Their first date was a rodeo. Their proposal last summer was in a park in Charlotte. Their wedding will take place in nearby Greensboro in a former Cadillac showroom.
Afterward, Hutcheson will pursue a career in law enforcement. She likens investigative work to putting together a puzzle. But what is the bigger draw?
Finding answers, helping others and doing a job bigger than herself.
She learned that from Dearden. And HPU.
“I have learned to give and receive grace,” she says, “with a grateful heart.”