3:00 a.m., April 9, 2016 – Robsham Theater Arts Center, Boston College: The campus is quiet and deserted. Fred, the graveyard shift janitor, pushes his cart carrying his mop, broom, and cleaning supplies from room to room. His job is monotonous and not real challenging, but it provides Fred with the means for a better life for his five children.
Although the job would be demeaning to many people, for the past 15 years Fred has been happy to have steady work with good benefits. His janitor job is less physically demanding than his previous job as a cafeteria cook at Boston College (BC).
Fred Vautour grew up in Waltham, Massachusetts, about 12 miles from Boston. There was no money for him to attend college and he wasn’t interested in school anyway. At age 14, Fred started washing dishes part-time at Ritcey’s Seafood Kitchen in Waltham. Two years later, he was promoted to a full time cook position and later became the restaurant manager. Fred worked at the restaurant for 27 years.
In 1994 Fred landed a job cooking at Corcoran Commons – a huge student cafeteria at Boston College. It was the first job he ever had with paid benefits like vacation and healthcare coverage. Fred discovered a few months after beginning work that children of employees could attend the university tuition-free, as long as they met the rigorous entrance qualifications. With a required minimum ACT score of 30 or a 1300 SAT score, only 30% of those who apply are admitted to the prestigious Jesuit Catholic Research University.
In 1998, Fred was coaching his son’s baseball team when his oldest daughter Amy showed up at the field with a handful of maroon and gold balloons. Fred knew immediately – Amy had been accepted as a student at Boston College. He proudly framed the acceptance letter and hung it on the wall at their house.
With scholarship money, Amy’s annual cost to attend BC was reduced from $65,000 a year to $3,000 a year. She graduated in 2002. Fred encouraged his other four children to set their sights on Boston College. Oldest son John was next to be accepted and graduate followed by Michael, and then Thomas.
Cooking for 2,300 students was tough, demanding work, particularly as Fred got older. So in 2001, he took a job as the night shift janitor at the Robsham Theater Arts Center, a complex that included a 570-seat theater, classrooms, and a dance studio. Each night Fred meticulously cleaned the facility.
In May 2016, Fred’s youngest child, Alicia, earned her nursing degree from Boston College becoming the fifth child to earn a degree there. Before Alicia was presented with her diploma, 62-year old Fred Vautour was called to the stage and given the honor of presenting Alicia with her diploma. It was an emotional day for Fred and his wife Debra who had a child at BC for 18 consecutive years.
Over the years, the Vautours created a Boston College hall of fame room in their house with each child’s college acceptance letter and diploma proudly displayed. All five kids lived on campus and often stopped by and visited with dad as he cleaned Robsham Hall. Michael, now a mortgage writer at Wells Fargo, remembers bringing some friends by one night to meet his dad. He told them, “Meet my dad who works graveyard shift and sacrifices so I can afford to go here.” The friend was so moved that he hugged Fred’s neck.
Today, 71-year-old Fred Vautour is retired from his days of scrubbing floors, emptying trash and polishing the mirrors at Robsham Hall. He’s proud of the five college degrees his graveyard shift job helped provide. “I loved my job,” Fred says, “Being on a college campus kept me young.”
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Martin Luther King, Jr.