Fourteen years ago, Jeremy May was working as a waiter at a local restaurant without direction in his life, when he decided he wanted to better himself by attending the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith.
That decision paid dividends for May. In addition to graduating from UAFS, securing employment from ArcBest Corp., and flourishing as a local entrepreneur and community member, May was recently recognized by receiving the UAFS Alumni Association’s Young Alumni Award, given for the first time this year as part of the university’s homecoming celebrations.
The Young Alumni Award is given to a UAFS alumni who demonstrates a successful early career path with significant achievements, an ongoing relationship with the university, high integrity and moral character, and a record of community service beyond involvement with the university.
The award recognized an alumni with modest beginnings. Raised by a single mother, May grew up in Midland and attended the Hartford School District. After moving to Booneville and graduating from Booneville High School in 2011, he began waiting tables shortly after with little foresight towards his future.
“I took it one day at a time. I lived in the moment, and I didn’t even think about if tomorrow was going to be there,” he said.
As a waiter, though, May began to see firsthand the two options he had for his future through the employees around him, some of which were college students and others were lifelong employees.
May did not want to make a career out of waiting tables, so he enrolled at UAFS. He was the first person in his family to attend college, and he enrolled as an undeclared major. He didn’t know what he wanted to do yet, only that he wanted to do more with his life.
“I didn’t really have a plan yet. I just knew I wanted to walk down a different path,” he said.
His first semester, he was intimidated by college. But he persevered, in part thanks to a college preparation course he enrolled in, where teacher assistant Stephanie London – now the director of student activities at UAFS – helped him adjust to the rigors and uncertainties of college.
“Had Stephanie not been there, I probably never would’ve made it through college,” May said. “Just being a 21 year-old guy that didn’t understand a lot about college and was afraid of asking questions or saying things that I thought would make me look stupid in front of my classmates. She was there to help me out, and that led me to understand that there were resources available that could help me.”
He also took a test in the class that recommended career paths based on the subject’s personality. One of the recommendations was to pursue a career in business, leading May to enroll in an introduction to business course the following semester.
“I knew right then and there that business is where I belong,” he said. “I loved everything about it, from the finance to the accounting to the marketing to the management. I knew that this was what I was going to study for four years and make it out of here on top.”
After graduating with a degree in marketing from UAFS, May landed a full-time job at ArcBest Corporation and worked his way up to lead marketing analyst. He also began pursuing entrepreneurial ventures in his spare time – he owns ClueMasters, an escape room in downtown Fort Smith, and IgniteSEM, a search engine marketing company, among other businesses.
He also started a family. He married his wife, Sarah, in 2010, and has two kids, Warren and Bailey.
May has also been involved both on campus and in the community. He has served on the university’s Young Alumni Council and participated in the Mentor Connections program, the Babb Center for Student Professional Development, and the Alumni Advisory Board, among other activities. In the community, he is a member of the 2016 Leadership Fort Smith class and currently serves as the Vice-President of Riverview Hope Campus which is part of his goal to make the city a better place.
“Fort Smith is home, and I’ve always wanted to take care of things that are mine,” May said. “Giving back in the community and being involved gives me a voice to do what I think is right and what’s best for now as well as the next generation.”
May said receiving the Young Alumni Award is “the most rewarding recognition I’ve ever received.”
“It was in a lot of ways hard to accept, because nothing that I’ve done was for recognition,” May said. “I’m extremely humbled to receive it, and it’s something that I’ll never forget. I’ll cherish the award for the rest of my life.”
“This award is for the people at UAFS, the UAFS Foundation, ArcBest, and community citizens who invested their time in me. They gave me the flexibility, confidence, freedom, and encouragement to be engaged in the community,” May said. “There are just so many people who enabled me to do what I do.”