Beyond the Casual Fist Bump: Passion and Purpose at Friends Seminary

Maahiya Bose, Staff Writer

We are all driven by something: a passion or belief that we may have observed and replicated from the actions of a family member, or one that stems from an event that occurred in our lives. As students at Friends Seminary, we are surrounded by peers and teachers who are passionate about what they do, and we reap the benefits of this enthusiasm daily. However, another aspect of our school is just as important, involving people just as driven as our faculty and students: the security and custodial staff. We often start our days with a cheerful “Good morning!” fist bump from Kei, and greet Russell and Mike in the hallways and entrances throughout the day, but this is often the extent of our interactions. We rarely learn about the passions that drive these essential members of our community or hear the stories behind them. Through interviews with each of these security and custodial staff members, I had the opportunity to explore their interests and motivations. 

Kei Styles has been working as a crossing guard at Friends for four years. Kei is passionate about helping others and he loves to motivate people: “I like putting smiles on people’s faces,” he said. He attributes this passion to his mother, who he called “the most giving, most lovable person you could find.” Kei uses everybody he meets as a life lesson and believes that “we could learn a lot from everybody.” Kei is also interested in team sports, a hobby he discovered early from his parents. “Once they showed me, I took it from there,” he said with a laugh. “You have to be a team player,” he said, and it’s easy here at Friends because “everybody’s just friendly.”

Mike Miller has worked as a custodian at Friends for twenty-four years. On a faculty enrichment trip to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, Mike discovered his love for flowers and gardening. “We headed over there for the day and that’s why I fell in love with the flowers.” In addition to his interest in gardening and flora, Mike is passionate about serving his community and is an active member of his church, where he was selected as a deacon last year. While serving his community and his church, Mike tries to reach out to people who are struggling or are less fortunate. “I have a past, and if my past can encourage them to get themselves on the right track, I don’t mind sharing my experiences,” he said. When asked if his interests correlate with what he does at Friends day to day, Mike responded, “Yes, yes. I love people. I love the communication that we have here . . . In a church you have a congregation and here we call it a community.”

Mike is also passionate about singing and he has led “Silent Night” in the Winter Assembly for the past five years. He credits Joanna Picket, a former member of the faculty, as the person who helped him with his singing. Additionally, “Bob Rosen, he gave me the opportunity to sing with the meeting house band; Robin Hoffman, rest her soul, invited me to join along with the Christmas sing-along,” Mike said. As for the future, Mike is planning on retiring soon and he wants to spend more time on gardening and helping his church ministry. He also plans on “making hospital visits to the sick and shut-in, carrying the communion to those that aren’t able to get to church.” Additionally, Mike looks forward to staying active and visiting his sixteen grandchildren, concluding that “by the time I split a little bit [of time] here, and a little bit there, that would take up a good portion.”

Russell Dukes is another essential member of our community, entering his twenty-third year at Friends as a part of the custodial staff. He said that his first passion was basketball, but “as of right now, I think my passion is to work with young people with sports and try to use it to help them accomplish their goals in life.” He is currently working with an organization called Future Star Production, which hosts various events for his community, such as Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas toy giveaways, and a community block gathering to provide school supplies to local children. “So with that, I do the basketball tournaments, so I’m working with them, as of now, a couple times a year,” Russell said. He also said that the diversity and positivity at Friends plays a large part in motivating him, as well as “the message that we try to put out when it comes to helping, caring, and doing things in the community.” Russell is currently working with the youth, using the medium of sports to “put a message out of how we are more alike than not alike as human beings . . . I find sports to be one of the things that brings people together from all walks of life,” he said. Russell is motivated by observing the events that take place in other communities and around the world that make him “want to do more” and to be “a part of the solution.”

These three short interviews demonstrate the value of getting to know the people around us and learning the stories and interests that drive them. We walk through our days interacting with countless people, yet we may know little about them. With a few questions, and maybe five minutes of conversation, stories of purpose, ambition, and aspiration can be revealed. These stories change the way we perceive the people and the world around us, but they are so often overlooked. Students are pushed to ask “why” when talking about history, literature, or mathematics, but most of us fail to ask these simple yet significant questions in our day to day lives. We see our own world everyday; tomorrow let’s try to see into someone else’s.