Words to live by: Custodian writes inspirational quotes for students

His mother gave him a love of language, and she and his Cuban grandfather showed him how important it was to be kind and encouraging to people.

Their examples inspired Trey Velez to encourage others.

Throughout the fall semester, students in Jay Kapellusch’s biostatistics course in Lubar S250 found weekly words of encouragement from Winnie the Pooh or Plato on the blackboard. Kapellusch eventually found out that Velez, a custodian in the building, was the writer.

Students were greeted one morning by this inspirational quote: “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” (Photo courtesy of Jay Kapellusch)

“I hoped they could make a difference to the students,” Velez said. “My mother was an English teacher, and she always read us quotes from literature and philosophy.”

He started the habit of sharing quotes when he worked in food service at Milwaukee Public Schools for three years, Velez said. He found the students liked the little notes, and often asked him questions about them. As a student himself, he knows any words of encouragement are appreciated.

Just before exam week, Velez gave his own quote: “Good luck with your finals. You got this!” (Photo courtesy of Jay Kapellusch)

In addition to working at UWM, Velez is a student at Milwaukee Area Technical College, planning to eventually work toward a degree in psychology. He’s also studying French online.

His colleagues and supervisors describe Velez as humble and hard working. He grew up in Milwaukee as part of a large family.

After hearing about Velez’s efforts to keep students inspired, Chancellor Mark Mone decided to honor him for the way he reflects the university’s values. On Monday morning, January 8, the Chancellor presented him with a plaque at a brief ceremony attended by his co-workers and supervisors.

“I hoped they could make a difference to the students,” Velez said. (UWM Photo/Elora Hennessey)

“He was surprised to hear that the chancellor wanted to recognize him,” said Jeff Pozorski,
superintendent of environmental services.  “He said, ‘this is just what I do every day.’ He’s a very humble person that enjoys helping others. He likes to read inspirational material and share it with others.”

Velez’s supervisor Dorothy Copeland described him as the type of employee who never misses a day of work and carries out all his assignments quickly and efficiently.

For his part, Velez who has been at UWM for six months, said, “This is the favorite job I’ve ever had.”

In addition to the plaque, Mone also presented Velez with a book of quotations gathered by Seth Siegel, a writer and activist who is a senior policy fellow in the Center for Water Policy at the School of Freshwater Sciences. The book, “Other People’s Words: Wisdom for an Inspired and Productive Life,” includes nearly 1,200 inspirational quotations.

That may help Velez keep students inspired for the spring semester.

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