Employee appreciation day

Friday afternoon. I turn the corner of the third floor of Duke and say a quick “hello” to the man who pushes the cart of cleaning supplies. His company is a vacuum, bottles of chemicals, rags. On my way back to the stairwell I see him again, but this time I stop walking. A few more words are exchanged. Eye contact is made, sustained. A smile is shared. “Glad it’s Friday?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say emphatically and grin. He nods in agreement. I walk on. Sunday evening. One cook amidst the steam, the hot trays, the giant pots. Hundreds of students to please. “Nasty. I hate nasty food,” one student blares, loud and articulate for all to hear, as he waits in line to choose. The doors to the cafeteria close at seven. However, the kitchen does not close. It remains open for those who work there, to clean up after those who did not approve of the options for dinner. To wipe up the dribble and the crumbs. To find dignity among the options.

Tuesday morning. Dawn. She starts to vacuum just as I’m typing out the conclusion to my research paper in Bauman 204. The loud, waspy drone shakes me out of my cocoon-like daze. ‘The sociological perspective…’ I type as she straightens chairs and picks up candy wrappers, coke cans, and balls of crumbled paper, … ‘demands an introspective look at the economic marginality…’ I continue as she coughs, stoops over to pick up, pick up, pick up at 6:30 a.m., pick up as the sun rises.
Saturday morning. I had to get up, obnoxiously early on a Saturday, to meet the car caravan in the Binford lot. As I pass the man in the mask I catch his eyes, just his eyes, meeting mine briefly as he continues to sweep. The swoosh of the broom echoes in all corners of the quad-a place that often is transformed from a lively stage into a trashed, forgotten ghostland in a matter of hours. The stench is sour-sweet. Birds fly above it, swallows among the beams. He steps through it, breathing it in through a filter as the party sleeps. Shattered glass glistens. He sweeps.

Hypocrisy, guilt, sympathy or hopes for transformation of an unjust system will not fit onto the page of college newspaper. But ideas will. Think about it. How one day of saying “thank you” is not enough. Realization, in addition to appreciation, is critical. Words, tossed carelessly like empty cans, are not lost to a space of nothing. Watch your words. Be humble, grateful. Offer a smile, an “excuse me,” a brief conversation. A reflection. It’s a dialogue. It’s a beginning. Thank you to all those who work at Guilford College. Not one day, but every day.