More than a custodian

Custodian Sean Smith spreads positivity through the school


Ashlyn Gillespie

Wearing a bright smile, custodian Sean Smith sits on a bench greeting students in the morning. Smith believed that if the first thing students see when they enter the school is someone saying good morning, it will make their day that much better. “Now, if you’re walking up that walkway with an attitude, I want [you] to see a cheery face that says ‘hey, I’m glad to see you,’” Smith said.

A loving husband. An affectionate grandpa. An attentive dad. A devout Christian. A friend to all staff and students. Like all the behind-the-scenes staff, Sean Smith is more than just a custodian.

Smith heard about this job from a friend at his church 14 years ago, and he decided to apply. Even when he is in a bad mood, Smith makes sure that he never takes it out on those around him.

“You make life what you want to be, okay? My job is to bring it in a joyful way because I used to be the meanest with the most attitude around. Then I had to take that frown and turn it upside down, and I liked what I saw in the mirror. That’s what I live by. We [are] all human beings, [every]body needs somebody to talk to,” Smith said.

Smith has four kids and eight grandchildren that he enjoys going to the zoo with during his free time. When his wife needed a kidney transplant, he donated his kidney to her with the school’s help. 

“[The doctors] found out [my wife] had a kidney disease and that she needed a kidney transplant. I was just a boyfriend at the time who went to support her at her first dialysis. I went in and did the blood work, and lo and behold, we have the same blood type. That’s right there because she wanted to be married before I gave her the transplant. That [was] fine with me because I love the woman; we’ve been together now for 25 years. It’s been a fulfilling life,” Smith said.

Smith’s father left when he was one, and though Smith visited him twice throughout his life, he was out of the picture. 

“My father was [inspiring] because I told my kids that my father wasn’t there for me, but I’m sure gonna be there for mine. So my mother was my role model, [but I learned from] my father,” Smith said.

Now, if you’re walking up that walkway with an attitude, I want [you] to see a cheery face that says ‘hey, I’m glad to see you,’”

— Sean Smith

Smith can usually be found at church when he is not at school, but he leaves at 3 a.m. to get to school every day before the students.

“You see, the kids come in as freshmen. You see them make it to senior year, and I tell them, the best thing you get is that handprint on a wall. You succeed besides that diploma walking across the stage,” Smith said. “So if I meet students who seem like they’re going the opposite way, I try to tell them which way to go. I say, ‘You see these handprints? These are your focus. The ones who reached that goal they’re on this wall. I want to see you do the same. Your parents want to see you walk the stage and get your diploma, so you’re getting two benefits for one in four years.’”

Smith says he wants students to remember that someone will have to if they don’t clean up after themselves. He sees teachers and students alike who leave trays at the lunch table or do not clean up after themselves, and Smith says he cannot do his job if these things are not done.

“[You guys are] grown kids who graduated from eighth grade; act like it. If you’re a grown person who has to be cleaned up behind yourself, that says a lot about you. If you leave a tray [of trash], I have to pick it up,” Smith said. “There are 12, 14 trash cans in there. If you’re going out and you’re bypassing those trash cans, that says a lot about you and your career. So that’s what I want from my students.”

Every day at work, Smith handles situations such as cleaning toilets, mopping biohazards, and keeping the school clean. So when a student remembers him when they visit, it means a lot to him. 

“A big memory is when those students come back and [say] thank you three or four years after they left high school. They will come back and visit whoever they want to, but they remember me, the custodian, and say thank you for all they see that goes on,” Smith said.