CHADRON – Jovan Mays, a 2010 graduate of Chadron State College, will be Chadron State College’s Winter Commencement speaker Friday. The ceremony in the Chicoine Center is free and open to the public as well as live-streamed. One-hundred and five candidates for bachelor’s degree and 77 candidates for graduate degrees will be honored. 

Mays is the Emeritus Poet Laureate of Aurora, Colorado, a Distinguished Young Alumni Award recipient, a Chadron State Foundation Trustee, and the author of four books. Since 2009, he has spoken at more than 120 events including performing commissioned pieces, tributes to veterans, and multiple appearances at the Sterling, Colorado, Correctional Facility where he judges the poetry slam. He has also presented at the Colorado Language Arts Society conference. 

At Smoky Hill High School, his alma mater, Mays is a specialist coach for the wrestling program along with providing educational presentations about healthy masculinity and social-emotional learning. 

Mays believes everyone has their own voice and he curates Your Writing Counts, a youth poetry program in Denver , that engages more than 100,000 students annually through creative writing, storytelling, workshops, and youth poetry slams. He has been a guest instructor with the Denver Writing Project since 2011 teaching sessions for elementary and secondary educators, as well as youth campers. Since 2019, he has been a volunteer facilitator with Project Pave-True Man Program that encourages high school-aged males to make healthy choices and cultivate healthy relationships. 

His poem, Borealis, has been interpreted and preserved in a mural in Aurora created by Like Minded Productions. In 2018, he was a presenter, panelist, and instructor at the world’s largest literature festival in Jaipur, India. 

A Student Engagement Advocate with the Aurora Public Schools (APS) since August 2020, he assists students with leadership development and creative writing. Before his current position, he was a Youth Voice Coordinator with APS for three years. He created the first district-wide youth voice platform which engaged more than 500,000 audience members and 30,000 students with journalistic stories with a focus on mental health, resilience, and self-investigation. 

From 2016 to 2017, Mays was the Community Engagement Coordinator with Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver. In that position, he raised $8,000 for community outreach and creative programming and won awards from the Art Tank, Viewers Choice, and Denver Foundation. 

Mays serves as a member services representative on the YMCA of Metropolitan Denver, a role he has had since 2010. He opens the facility, which serves 3,000 people daily, at 4:30 a.m. on weekdays, gives tours, and tends to other front desk duties. 

In November 2019, Mays memorialized the late Zack Muma with a poem, The Constellation Zacharias, in a TEDx talk. As a CSC sophomore in 2007, Mays helped monitor Muma’s Type I diabetes. Unfortunately, Muma died in August 2013 before his second year at CSC.  

While a student, Mays was the organizer of an annual CSC talent showcase called Release for several years. In 2009, he presented a Graves Lecture about slam poetry and spoken-word poetry. 

In 2011, Mays and three other team members won the national slam poetry title. In 2008, Mays participated in a panel during the second annual Diversity Forum attended by more than 225 Chadron Middle School students. Mays quoted Martin Luther King about the dangers of “sincere ignorance and conscious stupidity.” He also recited Impossible, a nearly four-minute poem he wrote about conquering issues of race.  

“Being diverse is not just being a friend of someone who is of a different race or embracing people because of those differences,” Mays said. “Every time you read a book, every time you go to class, every time you learn something new, you are constantly making yourself more diverse.” 

In 2016 and 2017, Mays was invited to speak at CSC’s MLK Day.  

Mays said when he overheard racist comments during his underclassmen years at CSC, he often remained silent. As a CSC upperclassman, however, he found his voice and spoke up in similar situations. He encouraged the audience to do the same. 

“Don’t default to silence. Speak up for yourself or others when you hear racist remarks. Start those difficult conversations at the dinner table. Speak up a little bit. You can learn how to confront others without being argumentative,” Mays said. “You can start in small ways in your own area of influence.”