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  • The Griffin

Erik Schneider: Spreading Positivity One Fist Bump at a Time

By Julia Barth, Features Editor

It’s late at night and I’m sitting in the library, trying to study for an exam that I’ve convinced myself I know nothing about. As time ticks on, other students begin to take off for the night. It’s been dark out since 6 p.m. and I have papers scattered everywhere, with 10 tabs sitting open on my laptop. “I just need a break,” I think as I look around the library for something to do or someone I know. As if sent by my guardian angel itself, over walks Erik Schneider and instantly, my night looks up.

If you’re a student at Canisius and have ever spent a late night or two studying in the library, you probably know 29-year-old Erik Schneider. Officially, Schneider — who is from Lockport — is the second-shift housekeeping foreman, but unofficially, he is a friend to countless students at Canisius. For the last five years, Schneider has come to Canisius day in and day out ready to work and create a comfortable and safe campus environment. From vacuuming the library to cleaning the bathrooms, Schneider is one of the many essential people across our campus who loyally keep the college running.

But besides being a reliable member of the maintenance staff, Schneider is a friend. Whether you’ve had one conversation with him or many, he is the type of person who brings a spark of positivity into your day, just by saying, “Hi!” He is always eager to hear about what’s going on in your life (or what’s stressing you out currently), and his own personal anecdotes have an inexplicable way of putting you at ease.

But all of that casual and friendly conversation came to a halt when the pandemic hit. “At the beginning of the pandemic when everyone left, it was a ghost town here. And our jobs changed a lot,” he recalled. For someone who is naturally a social butterfly, being practically alone on campus was extremely difficult for Schneider. On top of that, the work piled on with new standards and protocols put in place to sanitize and disinfect properly for students, faculty and staff. Schneider remembers feeling really down, even depressed at times. What helped him persevere was online connection.

“I started doing poetry reading online, and it helped me to calm down and not think about everything going on,” he said. Using Facebook Live and Instagram Live as a vessel, Schneider would read poetry from books he collected as a kid or from ones he found online. People gathered virtually to watch, and it not only fostered a calm mindset for his audience during an obviously stressful time, but it also helped him to gain an important perspective on his life and his situation. “It helped me relax more. Just to block out the negativity,” he explained. “I like to be positive with everybody that I know because yes, we all have bad days — so I like to spread some positivity to not make it a bad day.”

After returning back to campus during the fall semester of 2020, Schneider learned about an opportunity as a college employee for him to take classes at Canisius free of charge. By January 2021, he decided to enroll in classes part time starting this semester. With the encouragement of his family and friends, he is ecstatic to finally be able to pursue a career that he is truly passionate about. The classes themselves? “It’s been a game changer,” he said. It has been ten years since Schneider has graduated high school and since then, he has worked odd jobs through the Lockport schools, Elderwood long-term care facility and even at the Lockport Locks. But now, he realized, he is ready to get a degree in something he loves.

Schneider is currently taking two classes and is majoring in digital media arts (DMA) — a field he says he loves because he would love to get into digital filmmaking or behind the scenes work. English 111 with Dr. Stowe and an introductory DMA class with Professor Galasso have both been fantastic, he said, noting that his professors are very accommodating and understanding of his learning disability.

Since he can remember, Schneider has had a learning disability that has challenged him in more ways than one. He had an IEP in school, which is an individual educational program for students with learning disabilities, and he mentioned how it allowed him separate locations for testing, tests being read, clarification on questions, use of a calculator and extended time on exams.

He credits his family and their support for getting him through school, but now that he is in college, he acknowledged how Toastmasters, the public speaking organization he is part of, has taught him how to be a better speaker, communicator and leader. “I have overcome my learning disability with Toastmasters and am the best person that I could possibly be,” he said.

Using these classes as a way to challenge himself has been scary and exciting at the same time, Schneider admitted. His professors explain the material in a way that he can understand, and his classmates and professors have been more than willing to help him and work with him on more difficult material. Schneider is more than excited for his classes to come, saying, “I want to challenge myself with my learning disability and show what I could do. It has been a life-changing experience and I’m just going to keep going as far as it'll take me.”

In his free time, Schneider thoroughly enjoys spending time with his family. Whether it’s heading home for Sunday dinner or going trick-or-treating with his nieces, he values his time with his family tremendously and falls back on their support through everything thrown at him in his life — he credits his parents and his siblings for raising him to be the man he is today.

Besides spending time with his loved ones, which is something he thinks everyone should do more of, he has also gotten back into donating platelets every two weeks. He hadn’t done it since 2017 until he started up again during the pandemic. He has already made 19 donations and is shooting for 100 or more. “I want to give back to my community. Doing platelet donations every two weeks has been wonderful,” he said regarding the experience.

Schneider, being wholeheartedly selfless, made sure to mention the deep respect and love he has for his coworkers here at Canisius. “They are like family to me. We have a lot of laughs and we get the job done,” he said.

But his true love for this school lies in the connection he has made with the students, faculty and staff. As many students who know and see Erik around campus know, he loves to go up to people, introduce himself and just strike up a conversation like they’ve been best friends for years. He loves being known for being true to his authentic self, and seeing students around campus is what turns his bad days around. He cannot thank the people he has met over the last five years at Canisius enough and hopes he has made an impact in some way on those he has gotten to know or even strangers who have experienced firsthand his infectious positivity.

Schneider reflected, “Those words, saying ‘Hello,’ ‘How are you doing?’ ‘Hope you’re having a good day!’ [and] giving fist bumps: that’s a sign of positivity that I love seeing every day when I come here. I’m glad I make an impact on people, because that shows me that I make a difference in people’s lives and show them they are never alone. And I will truly never forget that when I leave this college — I hold that deeply in my heart.”

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