Fascinating people can be found in all sorts of places. Take 18-year-old Jacob Hays, who can be found at the Catoosa County Library shelving books and helping patrons or sitting in class at the University of Tennessee or riding the mountain bike he constructed from parts he bought on eBay or working on his car with his German shepherd, Bruno, keeping him company.
Hays is a young man of many interests. He’s been working at the library since he was 14, first as a volunteer in order to earn a “Volunteer Cord” at his school, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High, and now as a regular employee while he attends college.
“I was trying to decide what kind of volunteer work I could do,” says Hays, “and my mother suggested the library. I really like it. The people there have become like family to me.”
The library seems an appropriate place to work for someone who loves reading, just one of Hays’ passions.
“The first book that really made an impression on me,” says Hays, “was ‘The Giver’ by Lois Lowry. I read that in seventh grade.”
“The Giver” is a dystopian story about a society whose emotions are suppressed to create “sameness” among all people by depriving them of the memory of the past. A boy chosen by the “elders” to apprentice as the “Receiver of Memory,” to learn all of history in case its lessons are needed, ends up struggling with his newfound knowledge and he and his mentor, “The Giver,” embark on a mission to return things like joy and sadness to the society by giving them back the memory of the past.
Hays developed a love of dystopian-type literature and went on to read “1984” and “Animal Farm” by George Orwell, “The Invisible Man” by H.G. Wells and a newer title, “The Passengers” by John Marrs, a story about self-driving cars being hacked and driven into positions where decisions must be made about who gets to live and who must be sacrificed.
Hays does not limit himself in his reading. Whatever grabs his interest is fair game. He’s read the Alex Rider series of books he describes as “James Bond for kids,” the Harry Potter series and more recently “The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver. He says teachers have recommended many good books to him over the years.
“I’m a very technical person,” says Hays, “so I read a lot about technology, mostly online but in books, too. I’ve read four or five car manuals I got from the donation pile at the library about carburation, suspension and other things.”
Hays’ technical tendencies also lead him to analyze things -- how well a book is written, how well an argument is debated. He says he enjoyed the rhetoric and debate classes he took in high school and has watched and studied debates online. “Watching debates between Jordan Peterson and others opened my eyes to debate and criticism and ways to express myself, how to not lose your composure and how to debate so your argument can’t be deconstructed or pulled apart by an opponent.”
Video games introduced Hays to the world beyond earth, which resulted in an interest in real-life space and the work of Elon Musk. And it was a video game -- Super Mario Galaxy -- that sparked an interest in music, especially orchestral music. Hays also loves jazz and played trombone in his school band, which got to perform at Disney World. “That was an amazing experience -- the whole band marching and playing for all those people,” he says.
Back on earth, at home with his parents, whom he credits for helping him become the kind of person he is, the young man who plans to someday work in information technology, with a possible specialty in how data is handled and kept secure, plays Guitar Hero, likes anime and cooks a mean pizza from scratch. He has a second degree, level three black belt in taekwondo and admires Winston Churchill.
While Hays says he won’t be making any rash decisions, he does have ideas about his future: “I would like to have a family and travel, maybe to Alaska and Japan. I’d like to go to Japan during jazz season and see [the jazz band] Casiopea in person.”
Does Hays have a book he thinks everyone should read? “I probably shouldn’t say this, but ‘Permanent Record’ by Edward Snowden. People’s data is no longer private and they need to understand that.”