When I was born, my Aunt Jean’ne started a college account for me like she did for each of my four brothers. She provided seed money in the account and then we were encouraged by our parents to save money so we could go to college. Birthday and Christmas money was put in our college accounts starting at a very young age. When we got old enough to do something that paid real money, we saved as much as possible for college. I had no idea what college would cost, but the goal was to save as much as possible so that we could go to college.
We were motivated to find work during the summers in high school to earn money. Full time work was highly desirable since it resulted in more pay and thus more money could be saved for college. So the summer after my junior year in high school, I applied for a job at the university in our town. The university would hire high school kids each summer to work on the custodial or the grounds crews. We all knew that getting a job on the grounds crew was the best job you could have as a 16 year old. On the grounds crew, you got to work outside, enjoy the sun and hang out with friends.
I was a little disappointed, to say the least, when I was chosen for the custodial crew. Once we were told what area we would work in, we were assigned to work with one of the custodial staff. I was assigned to work with a women named Maryann. Maryann looked somewhat like Aunt Bee from the show Mayberry RFD and her demeanor was equally friendly. While I was really nervous going into my first real job, Maryann took me under her wing. She took me to where we would do our work and began showing me the ropes. She patiently showed me how to perform each of the tasks and made sure that I understood that it needed to be done well. This job mattered – it was part of helping the university operate successfully. We cleaned dozens of bathrooms each day including 250 toilets and 127 urinals. I had never seen a urinal up close and personal but I did that summer.
I don’t really remember much about the work, but I remember Maryann and the important life and leadership lessons she taught me. She would talk to me like I mattered and provided “motherly” support and advice. When I shared that I was saving my money over the summer to go to college, she was adamant that I must get a college education even though she never had the opportunity. We talked about normal things such as families, the future, current events and we spent a lot of time laughing. Maryann taught me that what matters is your values. She demonstrated these values on a daily basis. She was always respectful – even to me, a snotty nose kid. She trusted me implicitly from day one and taught me that the value of trust cannot be underestimated. She taught me to work hard, take pride in your work and no matter what you do, do your best. Finally, she taught me about the important secret weapon for success: laughter. I was sad to leave Maryann that summer and, to this day, I still remember her as one of the best bosses I ever had. I lucked out that summer by getting to work on the custodial crew and getting to know Maryann – an exceptional role model.