by Michelle Hiskey,
For Kyle Stapleton, receiving one of Georgia State University’s most prestigious merit scholarships set his path for academic success that culminated with a recent MBA in organizational leadership from GSU’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business. His two Robinson degrees tell the world that his brain is smarter now, but not the whole story of what happened in his heart and bones to save one life and change others.
“I’ve always been a ‘go with my gut’ person,” is the way he explains his decisions that positioned him to make a difference.
Stapleton’s life changed when he received a Berner Scholarship, awarded to incoming freshman, mostly from rural Georgia. The Berner is half-award and half-interest free loan of $5,000 per semester.
“The scholarship was very important, a real blessing,” said Kyle’s father, Kenny Stapleton (GSU B.A., 1981), whose two younger children, Cody and Chelsey, followed Kyle to the university. “It defrayed the cost of college … and it was an honor that he was proud of because of his academic background. He had a chance to go to University of Georgia’s Honors program, but when he went to GSU, he said, ‘This is home. It feels right.’ ”
Stapleton joined the Emerging Leaders Freshman Learning Community. “From the beginning, I knew he would do well,” said advisor Dhanfu Elston. “We did a name alliteration exercise, and he was Kinetic Kyle, because of how he connected with all the students.”
Among Honors students, Stapleton found “a built-in network of people engineered to succeed.” While getting his first degree (BBA, 2009) and moving on to graduate work at Robinson, Stapleton put his energies into helping build GSU’s momentum and continue his own.
He served as a campus tour guide, WRAS deejay, marketing coordinator for intercultural relations, a graphic designer for the managerial sciences department, new student orientation coordinator and graduate research assistant for marketing and public relations at the Rialto Center for the Arts.
“The scholarship helped me see that I could add value to Georgia State and gave me the incentive to work very hard to make it a little bit better in a small way,” Stapleton said.At GSU, he continued community outreach. He gave up his hippie look when he donated 16 inches of his strawberry blonde hair to Locks of Love. He helped sustain a scholarship in honor of a high school classmate who drowned. He volunteered alongside his dad to coach his little brother Corey’s football team for four years. “His coaching got better every year,” said his dad. “Kyle’s a sponge.”
Stapleton is the youngest generation in a family who practices “shirt off your back” giving by volunteering for causes that need help and looking for ways to help others. In high school, as a way to support his teacher’s young cousin who had a terminal illness, Stapleton had his cheek swabbed for the National Marrow Donor Program.
In 2007, just before his junior year at GSU, Stapleton got an unexpected call. He was an almost perfect match for someone who was dying. Besides his professors, few people knew that Stapleton donated his marrow through a procedure at Emory Hospital.
“When he did it, I didn’t know, and that’s one of the things that makes Kyle special,” said Terrance Rogers (BBA, 2010), a close college friend. “He’s the type of person who’s all about getting the job done and doing good for good’s sake.”
Stapleton did not expect to meet the recipient. Earlier this year, however, Tiffany Weisenburger, who is raising a family in Pennsylvania, tracked him down. She is now in remission from acute myeloid leukemia, because of the transplant from Stapleton. Through a grant from a nonprofit, Weisenburger and her 7-year-old daughter visited him in Atlanta.
“It was her last-ditch effort to stay alive,” Stapleton said. “There is so much fight in her. I thought I was a driven person, but I couldn’t imagine what she’s been through. I would just roll over and die. Her strength is incredible.”
“It was a magic moment for everybody,” his dad said. “We’ve always told Kyle, ‘This is your world. You can do whatever you want to do and make a difference.’ ”
In March, when he turned 25, Stapleton founded STAY+, his way to create energy by spreading positive energy and random acts of kindness. Stapleton calls his birthday “STAY+ Day,” and made it a deadline for a month-long fundraiser. He raised $1,520 for Be the Match, which supports the marrow registry.
“I believe we’re obligated, with every opportunity, to plug our reward back into the world in a spirit of gratitude,” he said. “My parents taught me that if you can give, then give. We’re all in this together.”