Dedicated, selfless, driven and genuine were the words that first came to mind for those who know Garrett Kays, junior in agricultural economics. Kays, student senator and legislative assistant for the Governmental Relations Office at K-State, was recently selected as one of K-State’s nominees for the prestigious Truman Scholarship.
Each year, K-State nominates a select few students deemed outstanding by their professors and peers with an interest in public service for the Truman Scholarship. K-State is allowed to nominate up to four students to compete against over 600 students from around the U.S.
While his godmother Diane Johnson, executive director of the Livestock Publications Council, said that he used to be a shy child, she said it’s clear Kays has come out of his shell.
“His mom would always want to get pictures of him every time I saw them,” Johnson said. “And he was so cute because he would always do what his mom said but as he got older, he and I got closer and now we do a bear hug every time we get to see each other. Now he’s just so friendly; how can you not like Garrett Kays? He’s so easy to like.”
His ease with people brought him to join Alpha Gamma Rho, his older brother’s fraternity, where he became friends with Logan Britton, senior in agricultural economics.
“He’s a very selfless person,” Britton said. “He doesn’t like to talk about himself. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him and watch him grow here at K-State.”
That being said, his growth as a person began before he came to K-State. Johnson said his parents raised Kays with strong family values, and taught him to work hard and do things for himself.
“He’s a very selfless person. He doesn’t like to talk about himself. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him and watch him grow here at K-State.” – Logan Britton
According to Kays, Monica Murnan, who ran a program at St. Mary’s-Colgan High School, taught him to open his horizons and interact with different kinds of people. He also credited Chuck Smith, his high school football coach, with helping him develop into the person he is today.
“I can’t remember how many times – whenever he had the opportunity to talk about football – that he’d talk about his players becoming better gentlemen, becoming better Catholics, becoming better community servants,” Kays said of the coach who had been with St. Mary’s-Colgan for 27 years. “Sometimes during summer weights, we wouldn’t even do weights. We would go and pick up trash at the cemetery. He taught me about being a good football player and being a good competitor, but he taught me the most about being a gentleman and being a good contributing member of the community.”
Contributing to the community spilled over into every aspect of Kays’ life. From serving as an Ag Ambassador to serving in the Student Governing Association, Kays has devoted his time at K-State to serving others. This is something he said he hopes to continue with after graduation.
Kays wrote his policy proposal for the Truman scholarship about the things he hopes to achieve long term.
“My policy proposal is regarding U.S. agriculture aid programs,” Kays said. “Currently, we spend about $2.2 billion in (agricultural) aid across the world. Problem is in a short run, this has no positive implications other than making sure people are nourished for a short period of time. We’re giving people a fish, but not teaching them how to fish.”
“I saw his picture on the wall of Rhodes and Truman recipients and I thought to myself, ‘I want to be on that wall.’” – Garrett Kays
After pursuing a doctoral degree, Kays said he hopes to work for the U.S. Agency for International Development, which oversees the Feed the Future Initiative. The initiative is based around doing research for agriculture in impoverished countries at land-grant universities. The subject hits close to home for Kays, as four of the initiative’s 24 labs are located at K-State. Kays said he hopes to see the program use local and regional goods instead of shipping goods abroad to help solve short and long-term problems in the 19 focus countries.
“I want to be part of the decisions that help form agricultural aid policy across the world,” Kays said. “I see an opportunity to make it more effective and efficient with U.S. taxpayer dollars, as well as solving issues with food and security.”
His passion for problem solving was ignited by a Pre-K agricultural literacy program that Kays and his older brother Reagan Kays, senior in agribusiness, started to teach 3-5 year olds about agricultural basis.
“He’s very much about public service and making as big of an impact as he can,” Reagan Kays said. “He’s very service-oriented. He’s way more than me; he wants to be a public servant and change the world. He doesn’t settle with things. If he thinks something needs to be changed, he’ll make the steps to change it.”
Garrett Kays’ desire to apply for a national competitive scholarship began early on when a student from a neighboring town that had been destroyed by a tornado was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship.
“I remember on my campus tour, I walked by the plaques that they have on the left there at Hale Library,” Garrett Kays said. “I saw his picture on the wall of Rhodes and Truman recipients and I thought to myself, ‘I want to be on that wall.’ I saw this guy from my home county, a guy who probably showed at the same county fair that I did, and was involved in rural and agricultural activities receive this prestigious award so even before I came to K-State, applying for these national scholarships had piqued my interest.”
An award of this caliber is no small feat, but his friends and family believe there is nothing he can’t do. Reagan Kays said he feels that his younger brother’s passion, patience and selflessness make him an ideal candidate. For Britton, the maturity and dedication that Garrett Kays brings to the table is what sets him apart from the rest.
“In Weir, Kansas, nobody thinks that they can take their interests to a national level,” Garrett Kays said. ”To me, winning the Truman would show that no matter where you come from, you can make a difference.”
Written by: Bridget Beran
Photo by: Cassandra Nguyen