Outstanding graduate: Keenan Mai

Keenan Mai stands for a portrait
Keenan Mai, who came within millimeters of death while riding his bike after he was struck by a hit and run driver, stands for a portrait in front of the College of Business.

There’s something about being near death that brings people closer to life.

In 2015, College of Business student Keenan Mai came within millimeters of losing everything after a hit-and-run driver threw him from his bike and into the window of a parked vehicle, lacerating his neck and giving him a traumatic brain injury.

There were dark moments to follow.

“Then I’d snap back to reality and think, ‘Oh, that’s not going to help me in any way. That’s not going to help me learn or grow,’” said Mai, a Greeley native now wrapping up his bachelor’s of science degree in business administration concentrating in marketing. “For me, I don’t know if dropping out or even leaving CSU ever crossed my mind.”

Even after his house burned down in a freak accident a month later, positivity wasn’t far off.

“Just going from having almost everything – I would say I’m privileged – to having almost nothing apart from my family and a duffel bag of clothes, I’m more humble about life for it,” he said.

Sonny Lubick Leadership Seminar

Mai’s classmates recognized his drive and nominated him to the Sonny Lubick Leadership Seminar led by the former CSU football coach and Bill Shuster in the College of Business management department. The seminar emphasizes how students become leaders by helping those around them.

Mai had always been naturally drawn to giving, excited to see a smile cross someone’s face, or watch their eyes light up when they had the chance to share their passions. He was reluctant to make people uncomfortable by telling his story. “I didn’t need people to feel bad about what happened, because what I saw it as was a defining moment that helped me grow to become the person I wanted to be,” he said.

Keenan Mai and Brianna Gutierrez
Keenan Mai and fiancée Brianna Gutierrez (Photo courtesy of Hannah Swick Photography)

“Keenan has a great combination of intelligence, drive and being others-oriented,” said Shuster, who came to know Mai closely in his classes. “I’ve learned more from him than anything he’s learned from me — how to accept life’s challenges with grace and move forward.”

Before his traumatic accidents, Mai had wanted to be a lawyer to make good money. But braving his difficulties led him to think hard about what he really wanted to do with his life.

Then he discovered his passion for coffee, the art and science behind brewing, how certain flavors could bounce off taste buds like notes in a song, and his dream of someday owning a roastery and cafe was born.

“I love CSU because everything happened when I was here, and I’m a completely different person from when I started,” Mai said.