My career has provided me the opportunity to speak and meet with people across the nation. I have been fortunate to understand much of what happens behind the scenes of operating facilities in education, military bases, healthcare and more. It is all to easy to take for granted what keeps our education, community and work places clean, safe and functioning.
A post on LinkedIn today was a perfect reminder of amazing stories I've been honored to hear. Thanks to Jeff Paul and Chris Daltorio for sharing this picture in their feed to give me the inspirational kick to write this.
If your vision of a custodian is a person who cleans all day, you are way, way, way wrong. It is mind bending to see all the varieties of tasks in a week they have to accomplish.
"Custodian" has the synonyms of keeper, guardian, steward, and protector for a reason. "Janitor" evolved from the Latin term for doorkeeper and the guardian of the gates.
Why the etymology lesson? Because it lights my burners up when I hear someone say "I'm just a custodian".
My response usually begins with a stern "Never, ever say that again. There is no such thing as 'just a custodian'. Be proud." And why?
"Who's there on nights and weekends? You are the first in and the last out."
"Who knows more about the people and places and events than you?"
"Who does the little things other people ignore?"
"How many other people do you work with here know how to deal with bloodborne pathogens?"
"How many students smile at you, but may not for other staff?"
"Don't you know these students will remember you years later for what you've done for them?"
Many do. Our man, "Mr. Rodney", was the familiar presence in middle and high school. He knew the deal and we knew him. I can still remember his smoothness and coolness, even while he was changing liners or cleaning floors. I would think of this scene from "The Breakfast Club", because I knew he also had power if he ever had to use it.
A quarter century later, "Mr. Rodney" still makes me smile.
A favorite story told to me in Maine was how a graduating class requested that the custodian to be their commencement speaker. When students had trouble or were angry, the custodian would stop and ask the problem, maybe offer their office for the student to calm down. No judgment, no anger. It was about care and empathy of the person and going beyond caretaking of the building and grounds.
I found almost identical newspaper articles from years back and are worth the read:
High School Janitors Will Slip Into Suits For Commencement Speeches
Custodian's Graduation Address Clean Sweep
Another great article: Valedictorian Gives Graduation Speech At School Where Dad Is Custodian, Thanks Him For Sacrifices
You know someone like these examples. Comment below to share your stories.
And a little extra tidbit from the "Breakfast Club" scene about Carl the Custodian.