Stafford Leader

Leader at Heart: Southern Grad Kyra Zdep

Praised for Compassion, Drive, Including Others
By DAVID BIGGY | Jul 13, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy

When Kyra Zdep arrives to Salem State University later this summer, she’s going to be in a new place, surrounded by new people with lots of new things to explore. Admittedly, she’s going to feel a bit weird about all that.

“It’s going to be difficult for me to go to a place where nobody knows me,” Zdep said with a laugh, about 24 hours before graduating from Southern Regional High School. “I know that sounds conceited and I probably should even say that, but it’s true. It’s going to be weird that nobody there is going to know who I am. But at some point, the whole world will know who I am, right?”

That very well could be possible. The 18-year-old who most recently served as Southern’s student council president has a pure, unhindered knack for engaging others and, better yet, making them feel at ease and welcomed. In fact, it’s her bread and butter.

“Kyra has a tremendous personality,” said Southern Principal Eric Wilhelm. “But what stands out most about her is she treats every single person she comes in contact with like they’re important. When she engages with somebody, she always gives that person her time and respect, and she listens to them. Her ability to interact with those around her is what is truly superb. Not many people can do that.”

Growing up in Manahawkin, Zdep utilized her bubbly personality and loud voice as a cheerleader, but after eighth grade she discovered a new niche and ran with it: coaching special needs cheerleading with the Stafford Sparklers program. From there, Zdep blossomed into the leader she has become, one who absolutely despises bullying and advocates for those who are often pushed aside, put on the backburner or overlooked by the vast majority of society.

“I can’t stand bullying,” she said. “I just don’t relate to people who feel they have to be mean to others, and I just don’t get why they have to be that way. And I love being an advocate for people our society overlooks.

“Just saying hello to somebody can make a huge difference. You don’t know what other people go through in their lives, but even if it’s all OK there’s no reason to not be nice to people.

“But I’m the one who goes a step farther. I’ll invite anybody to my lunch table. This year, my lunch was huge, because I invited everybody to it. We’d have to pull seats from other tables so everybody could sit around it. It was a great lunch table, but it was huge.”

And that’s Kyra in a nutshell – always on the lookout to include somebody in doing something, even if it’s having lunch together.

“Kyra is one of those individuals – and there aren’t many of them – who just loves people, loves engaging people, and thoroughly strives to make them feel special.” said Southern Superintendent Craig Henry, who during the past couple of years had become quite close with Zdep as she led various initiatives within the high school and occupied the student-leader seat on the Southern Regional Board of Education. “Her compassion, intellect and drive, and the willingness to include others with whatever she’s doing, has made her an outstanding leader. And this young lady is, no doubt, one of the best leaders we’ve had in this district since I’ve been superintendent.”

Fortunately for Zdep, being at Southern for six years (7th-12th grade) gave her a multitude of opportunities to get involved and develop her leadership abilities. From helping organize the 18-Hour Dance Marathon for Ocean of Love, to helping lead a group of students in quickly raising money for a pair of students who lost their father, to delivering Thanksgiving meals to Southern families in need, Kyra became a sparkplug within the student body.

“She is an awesome kid,” said Rebecca Posch, one of the Class of 2018 advisors for the past four years. “Kyra did a lot of things behind the scenes, and she doesn’t care about recognition. She just wants to help people.

“And she’s great at getting other students involved in doing things for others.”

Christine Chirichillo, the senior class president who had worked alongside Zdep at various times, echoed a similar sentiment.

“Kyra is very confident in everything she does,” she said. “And she’s very good at approaching everyone, including them in doing something great, and organizing things. I really respect her.”

One of the defining moments for Zdep this year came in February, when she teamed with senior class treasurer Laura Esposito to organize a peaceful student gathering – green-lighted by Henry and Wilhelm – to remember the shooting victims massacred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

“That was one of those moments when it was important to show support for others somewhere else in the country,” Zdep said. “It (the memorial) happened really fast, but I believe it was effective. As a student body, we made our voices heard without yelling about it.”

If it’s not evident already, Zdep is all about teams and teamwork. In fact, she almost requires that a team of people do something rather than herself alone.

“Southern has helped me become the leader I am,” she said. “But to me, the biggest part about being a leader is showing others how to be leaders, so that they can one day lead as well. So, even if I’m the one who comes up with an idea, I look at other people and say, ‘OK, you’re going to help with this. You’re going to help with that. And we’re going to do this together and have fun with it.’

“Big puzzles require big teams. And, yeah ... sometimes somebody has to take charge. That’s just the way it is. But the only way to really have success is by doing something as a team.”

So, once Kyra concludes her stint at Salem State – by the way, she can’t wait to visit the house used in “Hocus Pocus, my favorite Halloween movie of all time,” ride the ferry from Salem to Boston, and walk along the cobblestone streets of downtown Salem – and completes her degree in biomedical science, en route to becoming a physician’s assistant, don’t be surprised to see her leading a movement of some kind, or even someday leading a town.

“I could be mayor, right? Who knows?” she said, laughing again. “Maybe I’ll be running for mayor when I’m 25 or 26. I’d be a very good mayor, I think. I could be a physician’s assistant who’s mayor and runs a non-profit to help children – and somehow has a family and kids!

“It will all work itself out in time. I’m just excited for the next step in life. Whatever happens after that, I’m open to just about anything.”

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