May 14, 2014

The Anyion: Lunch with Bernadin

“When I say have a great day, I mean the whole day.”

Bernadin and I met way back in the beginning of the year—she’s one of the staff members at Cathey Dining Commons who swipes people in. Beaming as soon as I walk in, Bernadin’s greeting is always a “Happy Monday” or a “Have a great Wednesday!” You remember a person like that. Two and a half quarters later, I wonder what it means, exactly, to have a great day. Not just great by anybody’s standards, but one of Bernadin’s great days, where her face lights up and I feel like she’s exactly where she wants to be at every point in time. What’s a great day for Bernadin?

Bernadin and I sit down at noon one day in Cathey two hours before her shift starts, apparently a normal time for her to come to work. She likes to get to Cathey early and hates being late. I couldn’t really see it any other way though. I can’t imagine Bernadin not being the most reliable employee ever. As we’re sitting down, she asks me how my day has been. I’m all right, I say. I tell her about having two classes and four meetings that day, about reading Kant and wondering why we have to be moral and what in life makes me happy. She takes all of the philosophical “finding myself and myself” nonsense like a champ.

“Once you exit this university, you’ll begin again,” she advises. But I don’t want to begin again—so I change the subject and ask her what she did before she came to work here.

I find out that before working for UChicago Dining for the past five years, first in Pierce and now in Cathey, she was a certified nursing assistant, caring for an old lady before the lady passed away. Bernadin is big on treating every activity as a service, but a service that she wants to do.

“Every type of job you have, you’re going to give a type of service, and it's up to you what kind of service you give,” Bernadin says. “And that’s [the] greatest part of the job.”

I could tell she likes it here.

“I love my job. It's a job and somebody’s gotta do it, but more importantly, it’s a service,” she says. “The type of job is not as important.”

And what about the “Have a great day” bit? Bernadin says that she tells everybody that because her smile and enthusiasm “may be the only thing that blossoms up that day” for them. And if those people are not really having a great day? Everybody has bumps in the road, she says, “But if nothing ever hurt you, you wouldn’t know how to say ouch.”

Then the mystery remained, however. I had to press on and ask—what makes a day great?

“Just making it through the day…that’s a great day.”

To me, those seem like pretty low standards: By that logic, almost every day is a great day. But I guess that's Bernadin’s secret. Every day is a great day, as long as it starts and ends. I think that’s something we’d all like to believe.

Anya Marchenko is the blogger behind The Anyion. She is a first-year in the College.