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Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Behind the breakfast station: Ms. Pearl, FAU’s adored dining hall employee

Behind the clatter of plates and the aroma of morning delicacies lies a story of resilience and community spirit. It’s 4 a.m. when Ms. Pearl’s alarm goes off, signaling the start of her day – a day not only dedicated to serving breakfast but also to serving her community.
Erika Fletcher
Mrs. Pearl headshot

Behind the clatter of plates and the aroma of morning delicacies lies a story of resilience and community spirit. It’s 4 a.m. when Ms. Pearl’s alarm goes off, signaling the start of her day – a day not only dedicated to serving breakfast but also to serving her community.

“I love the students,” Ms. Pearl, 66, said. “The students make my day and are part of my family… I love coming here.”

Working at FAU for 24 years, Ms. Pearl –dining hall supervisor– is FAU’s unsung hero, building lasting bonds with students that extend far beyond her role as a dining hall supervisor. 

Ms. Pearl requested to be addressed as such rather than by her given name for this article. Her responsibilities at the dining hall include managing cashier operations, overseeing front-of-house activities, helping in the kitchen when needed and engaging with customers and students. 

“[Ms. Pearl] just makes you feel welcome the first time you talk to her,” said Cassidy Palmer, freshman majoring in biochemistry.“She’ll always hear what you have to say, she’ll always ask how your day is going and what you did over the weekend.”

Palmer’s initial encounter with Ms. Pearl occurred in September when she went to the dining hall with some friends, who were already acquainted with Ms. Pearl. Since then, Palmer has struck up conversations with her during breakfast visits to the dining hall, establishing a regular rapport.

“Pretty much everybody knows her if you go to the dining hall in the mornings,” Palmer said.

Ms. Pearl is from Delray Beach, Fla. and commutes a short 10 minutes to campus for her early morning shifts, which start at 5:30 a.m. She works five days a week, typically concluding her day around 2 p.m.

“I like the morning shifts,” she said while returning a wave hello to a passing student. 

Alena Kalisnikow, assistant director of dining services who’s been working at FAU for three years, said she looks up to Ms. Pearl and sees her as an integral figure within the FAU community. 

“Ms. Pearl is a lot of fun… She’s very personable and she gets to know [students], and she can also be that mother figure for them,” Kalisnikow said. “I think she’s a big part of the community because a lot of the students will come in and ask for her.”

Ms. Pearl initially applied for a line cook position at the Breezeway food court; However, upon arriving at the dining hall to ask about the Breezeway’s whereabouts, the dining hall manager at the time offered her a supervisory role on the spot. Ms. Pearl began working that same day. 

“When she comes in to work everyday, she makes sure that everything is running smoothly, that everything is done. She does alot for the employees that are there to make sure that they are set up for success for the day,” Kalisnikow said. “She does make a big impact. I’ve heard from other employees including management of how much she does for them in the morning when she opens up.”

Ms. Pearl’s career trajectory includes 15 years at the technology company IBM, followed by five years with Sodexho Marriott, and eight years as a private duty nurse before transitioning to her role at FAU. 

“I like it over here because… the [students] touch my heart when I’m here. They really make me feel at home because I don’t have a big family, I have a small family,” Ms. Pearl said. “I should’ve been retired but I’m not yet. It has nothing to do with the money, just that I like it here.”

After her shifts conclude, Ms. Pearl’s dedication to service continues as she volunteers at Saint Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Delray Beach, Fla. every week. Her volunteer duties range from event setup to cooking, and she also serves on the pastoral care committee. 

“I like fellowship and I like serving the Lord,” Mrs. Pearl said. 

Ms. Pearl previously sang in the choir and served as an usher for the church until experiencing nerve damage in her right knee following a hip surgery in 2022. 

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), after a hip surgery, most people can carry on with daily living and light activities independently within 3–6 weeks. But for Ms. Pearl, that was not the case, as she wasn’t able to walk for nine months following her surgery. 

“Even if I’m not feeling good, I try to be the same way every day,” said Ms. Pearl. “Nobody ever knows when I’m down because I try not to bring my personal problems here.”

Ms. Pearl currently walks with a slight limp but persists in covering substantial ground at work daily, despite enduring ongoing knee discomfort. Her journey to recovery forced her to take nearly a year off from work, with doctors initially expressing concerns about her ability to walk within a year and anticipating an extended healing process. 

“[Doctors] said I wouldn’t be able to walk in a year, but I pushed myself and I made myself come to work,” said Ms. Pearl. “I made myself walk, I worked hard at it because I missed everybody. Being home, I had nobody to talk to, nobody to make me laugh. My whole life is here.

Before her hip surgery, Ms. Pearl enjoyed playing softball with her friends at the park, but she is no longer able to participate in sports or engage in such physical activity. 

“I got a lot of phone calls [when I was out of work] and [coworkers and students] showed a lot of love, and that really made me feel good because I was really depressed,”Ms. Pearl said. 

Ms. Pearl received the President’s Talon Award in December 2022 for her dedication to serving the students of FAU. 

The annual President’s Talon Award is one of FAU’s three types of recognitions to honor those who have “rendered service of exceptionally high value to the University and the community at large.” FAU’s interim President Stacy Volnick presented Ms. Pearl with the plaque. 

“Students come to the dining hall everyday and it can be a mundane situation,” Kalisnikow said. “But if somebody is there that’s making you laugh and making you smile and making you feel happy and comfortable, that definitely makes a difference.”

Laurie Mermet is a staff writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or DM laurie.mmt on Instagram.

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About the Contributors
Laurie Mermet
Laurie Mermet, Student Life Editor
Laurie Mermet is a senior pursuing a bachelor's in multimedia journalism with a minor in public relations. 
Erika Fletcher
Erika Fletcher, Lead Photographer
Erika is a senior majoring in multimedia studies with a minor in photography. She loves shooting sports and street photography and in her free time, she enjoys drawing, skateboarding, playing soccer, listening to music, and being with her friends and family. She joined the UP on a whim to make new friends and to get better at photography. In her time here, while not long, she's made connections and learned so much about herself already and can't wait to continue her journey with such great people.

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    Mercedes MooreheadMay 2, 2024 at 4:42 pm

    As a retired Special Education Teacher, on the island of St. Croix, United States Virgin Island, I understand her relationship with the entire FAU community. The story brought back great memories. I wish her health, strength, and happiness. Blessings to everyone for recognizing a special gift to many!