Hidden hero: Eli Smith

by Ella Bradford

        Every afternoon after lunch, I walk through that corridor snuggled in the back-left corner of the lunch room. I attempt to follow the ever-changing trash sorting instructions and slide my plate into the conveyor belt. Lastly, I project a “thank you” into the seemingly barren dish station. The middle schoolers who hustle their way in front of me usually do the same, and I can hear other students behind me thanking the conveyor belt as well. But who is behind it? Who grabs the dishes when they finish the journey? Who washes the dishes in time for the 6th grade dishes to recirculate in time for the late lunch upper schoolers? Two of the six hands that handle that job belong to Flik’s own hydro ceramic technician, Eli Smith.

        “That’s just the fancy title,” laughed Smith when asked to describe his job, “I mean, we do operate the dish washers. But, I just do whatever needs to be done.”

When I timidly intruded upon his end of the day lunch table and inserted myself to their conversation, he welcomed me with a friendly grin and bright eyes. He and Jason Cole, a fellow hydro ceramic technician, had been debating what type of animal I was dressed up as. I settled the argument: a wildcat.

“Oh! Is this for the game tonight?” questioned Smith.

        I was momentarily taken aback that he knew the schedule. Turner and Malone feel far away, and as Smith later revealed, he didn’t spend much time walking the grounds of our “compound.” Yet, he perfectly recited the time and gestured in the direction of the stadium.  

        “I checked out y’all’s schedule. I played football growing up and I would love to play college football,” declared Smith, “I got a full ride to Arizona and something came up… But I would love to go back!”

        Throughout his years growing up in the public inner-city schools of New York City, Smith participated in and enjoyed football.

        “I think the only person I really listened to in those days was my coach,” he admitted with a sheepish smile. Smith is making moves to support our own Wildcats in his own way. He expressed that he has enjoyed the opportunity to lift in the Westminster weight room and is planning to attend football and basketball home games throughout their seasons. He even agreed to help me out with my own fall fantasy league draft.

        “I think I saw the coach in the weight room the other day!” exclaimed Smith, who admitted he refrained from introducing himself, out of intimidation.

        In addition to his hopes of one day becoming a football coach, Smith is working to become a personal trainer, play college football, and perhaps open a restaurant one day. He spoke about the future with easygoing optimism, genuinely conveying a “roll with the punches” outlook I had previously thought of as unattainable.

        “He should open an ice cream truck,” interjected Cole, “I keep telling him that, but he just laughs me off!”

        Smith did quite a bit of laughing throughout our conversation. And he had a keen sense of humor that kept me laughing as well. More than just two of the six hands that keep the heavily trafficked lunchroom going, Smith is a force of light-hearted positivity and humor. He works hard to get whatever odd jobs there are around the kitchen done, but he does so wielding that wide smile that most certainly twinkles in his eyes as well. He grabs the, albeit occasionally poorly scraped off, plates and silverware from the conveyor belt whilst cracking jokes that keep his coworkers laughing. He reflects on his current situation with optimism for the future. He grasps the opportunities presented to him. And he exhibits that bright smile and contagious laugh all the while.

Yet, somehow Eli remains behind the divider in the back of the lunchroom. I’ve taken for granted the supply of plates that appeared in the lunch lines for the past 7 years. It’s easy to stay focused on what seems the most immediate importance: the test next period you feel unprepared for or the paper due by three that isn’t quite finished. But there’s something rewarding when you consciously remove yourself from those thoughts. You get to meet the people like Eli Smith who run the show, even when none of us are paying attention. How many of us can say we go above and beyond expectations when no was is watching? My point isn’t to be perfect, but to admire and appreciate the true heros in our community.

        “I just like the appreciation. I like when students say thank you and when they show that they respect you,” reflected Smith, “I like working here!”

        My request to you, now that you have finished reading, is to change up your routine a little bit. Instead of simply shouting into th3  cavern of plates “thank you,” try catching a glimpse of Eli Smith. Best of all, if you try shouting “thank you, Eli” around the conveyor belt or as you catch a glimpse of him in the kitchen, you too may get to witness his infectious smile.