16 Years of Spreading Joy
By Nanki Kaur (Charlottesville, USA)
“Hello honey! Go ahead and swipe, do your thing today butt-kicker,” Mrs. Kathy says as she envelops another student in a hug. The student grins, feeling light and rejuvenated with energy, as they walk into the familiar chaos of Newcomb dining hall. For sixteen years, Kathy McGruder has been an employee at the University of Virginia, spreading joy through these simple, ten second interactions.
Mrs. Kathy treats each student who walks through her entrance line at Newcomb with genuine and uninhibited kindness. To her, words of encouragement come easily. Mrs. Kathy sees endless potential in the UVA student body, and as a result, pushes students to realize their own worth. Mrs. Kathy, while discussing the students of the University, remarks, “Man, you guys are the U in UVA. If it wasn’t for you, this university could not shine the way it does. There would be no reason for this institution. You guys need to always believe in yourself.”
As a mother of two, Mrs. Kathy understands the challenges of university. Even as college students transition into a fiercely independent stage of their lives, she believes they are still kids at heart. Therefore, Mrs. Kathy tries to support each student she meets. Her work means an incredible amount to her, “I am not here for the swipes; I am here to make sure that someone’s child feels good on the inside. I want everyone to know that wherever Mrs. Kathy is you can get a smile, hug and feel completely welcome. I love you guys like my own children.”
Mrs. Kathy cares for UVA students on an individual basis. She takes the time to learn the names and recognize the faces of most students who frequent Newcomb. In the words of second-year student Allison Rogge, “Mrs. Kathy makes me feel special and loved - she brightens my day with her infectious positivity.” Additionally, Mrs. Kathy stands up for students who need a little bit of extra help.
“Well, there was one girl I swiped last year, who mentioned her heat wasn’t on in her dorm. It was October – it was freezing! After my shift, I dialed the maintenance number. I said my child goes to this school, and I am paying tuition to make sure she can succeed. I gave no name – I kept saying my child this my child that. The next day, she came back through the line and told me her heater was on.”
Mrs. Kathy has the ability to project her own happiness and selfless spirit onto the students of U.Va. Each day, she gives so much to others. Yet, when asked what the students can possibly do for her in return, she responded, clearly filled with emotion: “I am so blessed by getting to greet you guys and drive you up the wall every day. I get so much more than I give. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the joy…I wonder if I am worthy of all that is brought my way through you guys.”
Mrs. Kathy touches the heart of anyone who has the privilege of interacting with her daily. However, the students of UVA can take a small sliver of comfort in knowing they too bring light into Mrs. Kathy’s life - through sweet smiles, tight hugs or stories about their day. Mrs. Kathy embodies the lasting impact a single individual can have on an entire community.