One of the most fulfilling aspects of a student’s experience at Gustavus is being able to encounter beautiful souls everywhere they go. Vikki Smith, a cook and server in Dining Services, has been a household name during the four years she has been at the college.
She is a personable and charismatic individual who has been approached by various students and faculty. She oversees the Gustie Grill at night, cooking burgers and deep fried foods.
Her other responsibilities include serving the students, making sure everything is stocke d and cleaned, and training student workers. She is considered the honorary steak griller, much to her amusement.
“Here it seems like it’s a very open community as far as ‘I’m going to respect your views and your background as long as you don’t push it onto me, but hey, let’s talk about it, let’s see what our differences are, and then we can respect each other that way.’”
While she attended Minnesota State University in Mankato, she thinks Gustavus is a close-knit community with wonderful, open-minded people. She loves how everyone is so fun and willing to engage in casual conversations, while also having a great sense of humor so that she can joke around with them.
Because Smith had grown up in a conservative, traditional household, she wants to teach her daughter that it is okay to be her true self. She has been able to connect with workers in the cafeteria who have also been raised in similar situations, including many international students. One of them is a first-year student from South Africa who recounts that back home, the societal norms are like the United States back in the sixties with the color differences.
When she first came here, she thought,“it was amazing to see the openness and the love, and I said I’ve always taught my own children and my daycare kids that we don’t see color. If everybody were to fall and scrape themselves, and we all bleed red inside, we’re all the same inside. We’re just made differently on the outside, and that’s okay, because if we were all the same, life would be boring.”
After Smith had this conversation, she thought about how courageous and inspiring it was that students from all over the world, whether it be from South Africa, New Zealand, Vietnam, or any other country come to Gustavus for their education.
She understands how it can be overwhelming to get over homesickness and adjust to a totally different culture in the United States.
Boundaries are not a barrier that prevent long-lasting friendships, and that is what Smith appreciates about being in this inclusive environment. She is proud that Gustavus is an accepting and loving community and that people are willing to walk up to someone if they are having a rough day, and ask if they are doing okay.
“I try to do that for the students. I try to get to know them as not only a worker, or a student, but as a friend too…Becky and I are considered the campus moms—the college moms. I’ve had a lot of students tell me that.”
The part she loves most about this role is helping the students, especially when they are stressed about their busy classes and student orgs. She enjoys being there for the kids as a shoulder to cry and lean on, making sure they are doing alright under the enormous pressure. Smith said she tries to keep things in perspective for them, letting them know that the world won’t come crashing down if they make a mistake.
It is important to manage one’s time, and to push forward in the face of adversity. She reminds them that it is okay to take a break, and go for a quiet walk if their mind is racing with countless thoughts and they need to clear their head.
“The one thing I told my daughter—she was diagnosed with anxiety, and she ended up getting it for her first tattoo at eighteen, was to remember to ‘breathe,’ because if you learn how to breathe, you can learn how to relax yourself, you can learn how to calm yourself, and then you can be okay.”
Smith is one of those understanding individuals who knows that life is stressful because she has been through the same circumstances that students have.
She went to college, raised her kids, and managed a house all at around the same time. Though there can be several factors that affect a person’s mental health, she keeps telling herself to take a step back and remember to breathe.
She treats the students like they are her kids by telling them to smile and laugh at least once each day.
“It’s not that bad in life. Yeah, I’m going through breast cancer. I’m going through treatment, but it could be way worse than what I have, so you know what? I’m here, I woke up today, and I’m breathing so it’s a good day.”
This is the motivational motto she lives by to feel grounded. “It’s not that bad in life. Yeah, I’m going through breast cancer. I’m going through treatment, but it could be way worse than what I have, so you know what? I’m here, I woke up today, and I’m breathing so it’s a good day.”
One of her favorite memories was this last spring after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the Men and Women’s Hockey teams surprised her with a bag full of gifts that she opened right in the Dining Room.
She thought it was touching and heartwarming that they took the time to go to Target to buy all sorts of valuable things such as a essential oil diffuser, a blanket, and a Biotene mouthwash. While they were unaware about whether she had to go through chemo, they wanted to show how much they cared about her, and how important her presence is in their lives.
“That’s when it hit me that I’m literally in their lives for ten minutes to half an hour a day, and to know that we as workers on this campus—these little people that nobody thinks about, the little minions—actually touch the lives of the students like very similar to what a professor would do, so that meant a lot to me.”