Poetry Out Loud

Celebrating 15 years of Nevada Poetry Out Loud

The 15th annual Nevada Poetry Out Loud State Finals were held Tuesday, May 26. The virtual competition featured the top 6 poets from Nevada high schools competing for the chance to be crowned state champion. Eakjoy Sekhorn representing Washoe County was crowned state champion, Anastasia Chevalier representing Storey County came in second place and Lara Cassity representing Douglas County came in third.

Since September, more than 4,300 Nevada high school students have been embracing the power of words by participating in the 2020 Nevada Poetry Out Loud Program.


2020 Nevada State Poetry Out Loud Champion

Eakjot Sekhorn

2020 Nevada State Poetry Out Loud Second Place

Anastasia Chevalier

2020 Nevada State Poetry Out Loud Third Place

Lara Cassity

Focusing on our rich literary heritage and contemporary life through memorization and performance of classic and contemporary poetry, Nevada Poetry Out Loud is a program of the Nevada Arts Council, presented in partnership with National Endowment for the Arts, The Poetry Foundation, the NV Energy Foundation, Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, SoSu TV, Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Sierra Arts Foundation, KUNR , Nevada Department of Education, Nevada School Districts, Cultural Alliance Nevada, and Dynagraphics Printing.

District Representatives  


Clark County

Aylin Mendoza

East Career and Technical Academy
Darlin Delgado, Principal

Hello, my name is Aylin Mendoza. I am a senior at East Career and Technical Academy, a member of the Marketing and Hospitality CTE Program, vice president of our American Red Cross Club, and have been a part of DECA since my freshman year. DECA is an organization that prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs to be college and career ready. Every year I’ve competed in DECA’s State Career Development Conference earning a variety of medals and awards. I work hard in school, take care of my younger siblings and family, and do my best to be there for my friends. I would like to thank my mother, Monica Mendoza and English teacher Daren Stewart.

Douglas County

Lara Cassity

Douglas High School
Joe Girdner, Principal

Lara Cassity is a human being with seventeen years of age and currently widely involved in many activities including marching band, choir, steel drums, winter guard, and now, poetry. In her spare time she engages in excessive reading, writing, sketching, hiking, etc. Lara has a keen mind for astrophysics, environmental sciences, and foreign languages. She loves to dance, be outdoors, and hopes that one day she can achieve several goals including a trip to space (for science reasons), piloting her own self-built plane, sailing literally anywhere via sailboat, and retiring as a park ranger with an extensive knowledge of mosses.

Elko County

Soledad Negrete

Elko High School
Tim Wickersham, Principal

Soledad Negrete is versatile. Not only does she enter literacy competitions–earning awards in the VFW speech competition, Poetry Out Loud, and the Elko County Writers’ Festival, Soledad is also a member of the Nevada state championship golf team, participates on the varsity track team, and enters the county science fair each year–earning the Committee’s Choice award junior year.  In addition, she is the President of the National Honor Society promoting academic achievement and community service projects in which she both leads and participates. Soledad Negrete is a senior in high school this year and plans to attend Boise State University. She would like to thank her parents José and Sarah Negrete, her Creative Writing teacher Kelly Moon and her Speech teacher Emily Nielson.

Lyon County

Whitney Hegstad

Yerington High School
Principal Desoto Dixon

Born on December 1, 2004 in Reno Nevada, Whitney Hegstad, has been growing up in Yerington, Nevada, a small farm town about an hour from Reno. She is a Freshman at Yerington High School and studies Music Theory at Jam Pro Music Factory in Reno Nevada. Whitney has been invited to Northern Zone Nevada Music Education Association Honor Choir for three years and has sung solos at 2 of them. In 2019 Whitney was selected and invited to the Nevada State Honor Choir in Las Vegas Nevada. As a singer-songwriter, Whitney has her first set in fall of 2019 at the the Yerington Theatre of the Arts. She also has performed the National Anthem at the Night in the Country for three years and has been invited back for the 2020 concert. Whitney also sings at all the local football and basketball games. And various fundraising events. When Whintey is not singing, she is busy on the Yerington Dance team, playing volleyball, or taking care of her dogs. Introduced to poetry by her honors English teacher, Mrs. Mueller, and she quickly took on a passion for poetry. Whitney would like to Thank Mrs. Mueller, Mrs. Aldridge, her parents Lisa and Mark, and her Instructor Anita at Jam Pro and all her family and friends for supporting her dreams and goals.

Storey County

Anastasia Chevalier

Anastasia Chevalier
Virginia City High School
ShawnMarie Chapman, Principal

Anastasia Chevalier is a rising star in both her pursuit of educational, physical, and military goals, transforming the way the young women are leaders. Effective in building alliances amongst varying groups, Anastasia improves educational literacy across her classmates through engaged, involved discussions and debates.

With a proven track record in physical fitness, Anastasia leads youth in anti-bullying and self-defense skills through her work as a Second Degree Black Belt in Jeet Kune Do, working across age groups and socio-economic stratifications. She brings broad-based expertise in leading youth-based military groups supporting personal growth strategies and delivering complex goal attainment. She would like to thank her parents, Kevin and Ambre Chevalier, her English Honors teacher Karl Watts and her friends for ceaselessly listening to her recite her poems.

Washoe County

Eakjot Sekhon   

Robert McQueen High School
Amy Marable, Principal

Eakjot Kaur Sekhon was born on June 23, 2004 in the city of Tracy, California. She is currently a sophomore at Robert McQueen High School and loves every moment of it. Her favorite subjects are Chemistry, English, and Spanish. She takes school very seriously and always puts in 100 percent effort into whatever she does. In her spare time, she likes to listen to music and spend time with her family. Her love for poetry began freshman year in her English class when the Poetry Out Loud competition was first introduced to her. She didn’t get past the classroom for her recitation, but she was determined to somehow make it to the competition in her following years of high school. Eakjot would like to thank her parents, Kewal Sekhon and Narinder Sekhon, for supporting her throughout this process, her older brother Prabhjot Sekhon for helping her improve on her recitations, and her English teacher Lindsey Lavely for believing in her and making her love for poetry more intense than it was before.

2020 Nevada Poetry Out Loud Judges

Mary Bennett is an actor, a teaching artist and the Producing Artistic Director of Brüka Theatre in Reno. Her Dorothy Parker…Shivering and Sighing won Best of The San Francisco Fringe Festival, and was performed in NYC, in June of 2017. She has been named “Best Actor” in Reno News & Review ten times. Bennett organizes and artistically directs the Carson City Ghost Walk.  She has appeared on screen, most recently in Nowhere Nevada, Dear George and Three Clicks.  For the past two years she has been commissioned to create and perform solo shows with NAMI (Nellie Bly and NAMI Conversations) and at The Nevada Museum Of Art – (Anne Bingham – In her Own Words).  Mary’s training and performances include American Conservatory Theater (San Francisco), Bay Area TheaterSports, Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) Dell’Arte International Theatre Company, New York Stage & Film, B Street Theater, Reno Philharmonic, Reno Jazz Orchestra, Sierra Nevada Ballet, and the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. She is a Kennedy Center trained teaching artist, an Arts Integration Specialist and mentor, a Theater Artist-in-Residence with Sierra Arts Foundation and a teaching artist on the Nevada Arts Council’s Artists in Schools + Communities Roster. She enjoys reading and writing poetry and has performed her own work and the work of others in schools, theaters and at community events.


Ginger Land-van Buuren is the co-founder and Executive Director of Vegas City Opera (formerly Sin City Opera) celebrating their 10-year anniversary in 2020. She is a member of SAG-AFTRA, AEA and holds a B.A.in Music from Portland State University, an advanced certificate of Opera Performance from Bel Canto Northwest and was a Portland Opera Resident Artist. In her professional operatic career Ginger performed with Palm Beach Opera, Dicapo Opera Theater, Pacific Opera, Opera In The Heights, Natchez Opera Festival, Portland Opera, Opera Astoria and the National Lyric Opera.  She resided in New York City for over 15 years performing in off-Broadway productions and tours and was well received by The New York Times and Opera News in the New York City debut of An Incomplete Education, with The Bronx Opera, in which she sang the lead role of Gontron le Comte.  Ginger can be found in numerous movies, commercials and television episodes, and starred in the award-winning short film Cold Dark Night of Brilliance, in the role of the “Angel of Mercy” in which she also performed and recorded the title track.


Rodney J. Lee is a poet and educator living and performing in Las Vegas, Nevada, for over 35 years. Former Airman, construction worker, casino employee, English teacher, and current district-level equity administrator, he is the author of three books of poetry. His latest, Along These Trails, serves as a testament to his love for Las Vegas and the greater Nevada community. Rodney is known for his wide-ranging perspectives on the extraordinary-ordinary of everyday life. His work is poetry against all the odds, by any means necessary, an expression of tough lessons and earned revelations sung in the lyric of living.


Claire McCully was born in Mariposa, CA and spent her childhood fishing and backpacking near Yosemite National Park.  She has worked as a seasonal firefighter, in public libraries, and is a professor of English at Western Nevada College.  She earned her Bachelors in English Literature at CSU Chico and earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at CSU Fresno.  Much of her time and energy is currently devoted to raising her two sons.  After trying to live as a man for the first 40 years of her life, she finally decided to become her authentic self and transition to her true gender.  As a result, she has become an advocate of transgender rights.  She has recently given a TedTalk on her transition from male to female.Claire has competed in Reno’s Literary Death Match.  Her poetry has most recently appeared in the online journal, Trampset, The Kokanee, Sandstone and Silver: An Anthology of Nevada Poets, and The Normal School literary journal.


Pan Pantoja is the Executive Artist at the Potentialist Workshop in Reno. He is currently the City of Reno’s poet laureate as well as a poet with Spoken Views and a cited author with LaRue Press.  He is a government, museum and private gallery selected painter and sculptor and has created some of the longest murals in northern Nevada. Pan is an independent film and stage producer and director and a musician in the traveling band Weapons of Mass Creation. He loves teaching and is proud to be a teaching artist on the Nevada Arts Council’s arts education roster. He is currently an artist in residence at Squaw Valley Academy.



Nancy Podewils-Baba, MSW, LCSW, is a retired Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over 45 years of clinical practice, a past adjunct professor at the UNR School of Social Work, and a lifelong lover of all forms of art. She currently serves on the Board of the Sierra Watercolor Society, where she coordinates their Art Angels Program, which takes free watercolor instruction and supplies to elementary classrooms that do not have art. She also serves on the Leadership Council of KUNR Public Radio and is a past Board Member for the Reno Little Theater, where she volunteers regularly. Nancy has successfully written grants for both Reno Little Theater and Sierra Watercolor Society. She feels ready to be an Accuracy Judge for Nevada Poetry Out Loud, because she was an English major at Cornell, as well as a first child!

2020 Nevada Poetry Out Sponsors

2019 Nevada Poetry Out Loud Program

Nine counties participated in local and semi-final competitions in the 14th Annual Nevada Poetry Out Loud Program, with 26 schools represented and more than 3,500 students engaged at the local and state levels. Vanessa Aponte, a senior at Legacy High School in North Las Vegas, is the 2019 Nevada Poetry Out Loud Champion. Aponte received a $600 scholarship, and competed for $50,000 in scholarships and school prizes at the National Finals in Washington, D.C.  Sparks High School senior Noemi Valdez finished in second place and received a $450 scholarship, and Elko High School senior Mikalya de Guzman finished third and received a $350 scholarship. 2019 POL Program.

2018 Nevada Poetry Out Loud Program

Grey Hunt, a senior at Yerington High School, took first place at the State Finals, receiving $500, and competed for $50,000 in scholarships and school prizes at the National Finals in Washington, D.C.  Her school received $500 for the purchase of poetry books and to support literary programs.  Mikayla De Guzman, a junior at Elko High School won second place and Sandra Luevano, a senior at East Career and Technical Academy (Las Vegas) took third. 2018 POL Program.

2017 Nevada Poetry Out Loud Program

Gabrielle Hunt, a Yerington High School junior, was named Nevada’s 2017 Poetry Out Loud State Champion at the 12th Annual Nevada State Finals, held in the KNPB Channel 5 studio on March 11, 2017. Elko High School junior Cache Black placed second, and Douglas County High School junior Lea Gifford finished third. 2017 POL Program 

2016 Nevada Poetry Out Loud Program

Mikalya Bates, a senior at Elko High School in Elko County, was named Nevada’s 2016 Poetry Out Loud State Champion at the 11th Annual Nevada State Finals at KNPB Studios in Reno. She received $1,000, an all-expense-paid trip for her and her chaperone to attend the National Finals in Washington, D.C. and $1,000 for her school for the purchase of poetry books and/or literary programs. Gabrielle Hunt, a sophomore at Yerington High School, and Vanessa Blackwell, a senior at Douglas High School, placed second and third. 2016 POL Program.

2015 Nevada Poetry Out Loud Program

Nevada Poetry Out Loud Champion Dominique Groffman traveled to Washington D.C. at the endof April to represent the Silver State at the 2015 National Finals. The Douglas County High School senior advanced to the third round of competition in her semifinals as one of 24 regional finalists. Although Groffman did not continue on to the finals, she received a personalized plaque from the National Endowment for the Arts and Poetry Foundation.  2015 POL Program.

2014 Nevada Poetry Out Loud Program

On April 29, Christian Schunke, a senior at Yerington High School, was one of 53 students who walked on stage at the Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C., to participate in the 2014 Poetry Out Loud National Finals. Although Christian didn’t advance to the semifinals, Nevada’s State Champion Schunke recited his poems with ease and presence. 2014 POL Program

2013 Nevada Poetry Out Loud Program

Graciela Maya-Joseph, a senior at the Owyhee High School in Elko County, was named the Nevada State Champion and represented Nevada at the National Finals in Washington D.C. Jennifer Simon, a senior at Pahrump Valley High School in Nye County, and Ralston Pedersen, a senior at Yerington High School in Lyon County, placed second and third. 2013 Program.

2012 Nevada Poetry Out Loud Program

Mandy Titolo a senior at the College of Southern Nevada High School West in Las Vegas, was named the Nevada State Champion and represented Nevada at the National Finals in Washington D.C. Graciela Maya-Joseph, a sophomore at Owyhee High School in Elko County, and Jennifer Simon a junior at Pahrump Valley High School in Nye County, placed second and third respectively. 2012 POL Program 

2011 Nevada Poetry Out Loud Program

Emily Orellana, a senior at Rainshadow Community Charter High School in Reno, was named the Nevada State Champion for the third year in a row, and represented Nevada at the National Finals in Washington, D.C. For the second year in a row, Orellana emerged as one of nine national finalists, receiving another $1,000 and $500 for the purchase of poetry books for her school. Sarah Jamieson, a senior at Churchill County High School won second place and Dani Cabot, a senior at the College of Southern Nevada High School West, took third. 2011 Program

2010-2009 Nevada Poetry Out Loud Programs

2010 Poetry Out Loud
Emily Orellanaa sophomore from Rainshadow Community Charter High School in Reno (center), Wasoe County ,was named the Nevada State Champion for a second year in a row. 2010 POL Program

2009 Poetry Out Loud
Emily Orellana from Rainshadow Community Charter High School in Reno (center), Washoe County, with Miss Nevada 2008, Julianna Erdesz (right) and Jill Berryman of Sierra Arts Foundation (left). 2009 POL Program 

2008-2006 Nevada Poetry Out Loud Programs

2008 Nevada Poetry Out Loud

Lainey Henderson of Carson High School recites “Since There is No Escape” by Sarah Teasdale to garner a position at the national competition. 2008 POL Program

2007 Nevada Poetry Out Loud
Jake Reid of Douglas County High School recites two poems, “The Secret of the Machines” by Rudyard Kipling and “Walking Down Park” by Nikki Giovanni. 2007 POL Program


2006 Nevada Poetry Out Loud
Gibran Baydoun Green Valley High School performs “Do Not Go Gentle Into the Night”by Dylan Thomas. 2006 POL Program.