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‘Have a better one’
Take the time to appreciate employees
I wanted ice cream.
It was a Monday, just a few weeks ago. Two exams in back to back hours, an essay due the next day and the beginning of my half-semester class the next morning. I was worn out, stressed and slightly hungry.
So I wanted ice cream.
I walked into the caf, scooped up a pre-packaged strawberry swirl ice cream from a freezer drawer and paid for it with the meal plan I somehow still had left.
I needed a spoon.
As I walked over to the small corner where the utensils and napkins are kept, I noticed a worker toiling away. He was scrubbing with a cloth at the nastiest of stains on the counter.
I took one step in the direction of the spoon container, and he quickly stepped aside.
Without even thinking, or putting any thought into it, I instinctively gave up a “thanks” in passing before grabbing my sorely needed spoon.
I took a few steps toward the exit before pausing. I don’t know why, but what he said really stuck with me at the time.
Sir? If we’re being honest here, I’m a twenty-year-old college student, not the heir to Bill Gates’ fortune or a fancy foreign esquire.
Even if I was, there was no reason— in my mind, at least— that a man many years my senior should be looking up to me in a social regard. No matter his occupation, he has experienced life much more than myself.
As I stood off to the side, processing this, I watched him continue his work. He scrubbed away at the counter, pausing to let students by. Constantly, he moved around the flow of kids, many of whom are still considered teenagers. He never stood in their way, and you could tell he didn’t even think about his actions; he just stepped aside.
This simple action, one of many that we don’t ever think about during the course of each day, really stuck with me. I saw him working hard, much like any of the people that service the Quinnipiac community, but this time I just took a second to think.
Then, I took a second to thank.
I walked back up to him and exchanged a quick word.
“I just want you to know, everyone here appreciates the work you do,” I said. “Even if we don’t always show it, and we take it for granted, you do it with pride. Thank you.”
I’ve never seen someone look so appreciative. He turned to me and flashed a brilliant smile.
He said, “You don’t know how much it means to hear that. Thank you, young man.”
“Have a good day,” I said.
His response was pure gold. “Have a better one.”
I don’t want this story to come across as a self-pat-on-the-back. Just remember that the people who execute the “dirty work” or the little jobs are people too. They do the things that few of us on this campus want to do.
They don’t clean tables or sweep floors or cook food for fun. They’re getting paid, and most people in the service or cleaning industry really need that money.
That doesn’t mean they only work for the pay; most of the people I’ve encountered take pride in the work they do, the smiles they encounter and the thanks they occasionally get from 20-year-old journalism students.
Ever since that afternoon, I continue to see him in the caf.
Last week, it was the same spot. He remembered me.
“Need a spoon?”
Always thinking about other people, about us students. Next time, I told myself, I’m going to learn his name.
“Thanks,” I said. “Have a great day.”
“Have a better one.”
I saw him again on Wednesday.
His name is James, but he said his friends call him Free.
“So, call me Free.” I assume by that, we’re friends now. I won’t complain.
I asked him for a picture. He had the biggest smile before and after the shot, but he wanted to stay stoic on camera. What an absolute gem.
“Have a good day,” I said.
Try it for yourself. Have a conversation with him. Ask him how he is doing, about his life, but above all, thank him. He’ll respond the same way. Every. Single. Time.
“Have a better one.”
This could go for anyone that works for the students, rather than with them. Professors or administrators are perhaps the most well known staff members on campus, for a good reason. However, there are so many people at Quinnipiac, and at every college, that make the school really tick.
I still remember my dorm janitor from freshman year; her name was Lucy. I met her the first day I was on campus, with butterflies in the belly, moving into a room I had to familiarize myself with for an entire year.
She hit it off with my mom— and anyone who knows my mom, knows she’s a very talkative, friendly person— and it was a lights out friendship ever since for me.
Lucy always looked out for my room and my hall in Dana. First floor. She gave a chuckle when my roommate Zach and I changed the “1” on our room number to a “4” so we could be Dana “404 not found.” Nobody laughs at that but Lucy.
She helped me when I spilled a strawberry-banana smoothie on our room rug, even though her shift had just ended on a Friday afternoon. She taught me what to use, and also made me clean it up myself to make sure I knew what I was doing.
I had almost four smoothies a day freshman year. She knew it would be a continuous problem.
I got those smoothies from the Bobcat Den, where I also befriended a worker named Chester. He is always smiling, always asks me how I’m doing and always tells me to have a great day. Maybe that’s his job, maybe that’s just his personality.
Oh, and he always remembers my name. So does Lucy. So does Free.
Just because the workers at this school work for us, as students, that doesn’t mean we’re above them in society. They’re humans and some pretty awesome humans at that.
Have you ever talked to your dorm janitor? The guy making your breakfast sandwich? The lady working the cash register?
Let’s be honest, you aren’t a true Quinnipiac student if you haven’t had a conversation with Java John.
He’s just one of many amazing humans that really run this campus. They all have a story to share, a smile to see and a friendship to earn.
We’re bogged down in a cultural shift in college where your place in society is based off of some crazy values. Some people will look highly on you if your character is true, your work is solid, and your friendship adds value to their lives. Other people want to make sure you have a high follower count on Twitter before being your friend; if you’re not fake laughing on your Instagram post, did you even try?
The people that help out this campus with their hard work deserve respect for that work, appreciation for their effort and an outlet to talk to for their human side. They shouldn’t be glossed over because they have yet to friend you on Facebook.
Take some time, and talk with someone you often see at work while you get food, or chat with someone who cleans your hall or your classrooms. Sometimes, they might not care, or might not show interest; but the times when they do, people who care like Free, Lucy, and Chester, it just adds another person to your life worth your time.
I saw Free this morning, before I wrote this, when I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to even try to type up this piece. One glance at his smile when I said hello, and I was certain.
We talked again, and we went our separate ways.
After I was about 10 feet away, I turned back and said, “Have a good day.”
He was heading off to work, already setting up, when he turned to me.
I bet you can guess what he said.
I hope he had a better day, too.