Life Paths: How I Became a School Custodian

This guest blog is part of an ongoing series that will help showcase the different paths available to students after graduation (and in some cases, before graduation).

By: Emily Dort

I remember sitting in my senior English class with the assignment of writing my college essay. Our career aspirations. I had this “great life” all planned out: Go away to college to study interior design, find “Mr. Right,” get married, have babies.

That assignment was due 15 years ago and has yet to be completed. At least not in the way I originally planned.

Shortly before I was to leave the state for school, I got a gut feeling it was the wrong choice.  Against my parents’ will I stayed in Maine, instead, enrolling part-time at the local community college and working various part-time jobs.

A year later, I learned why my ‘gut’ said to stay home. My dad was diagnosed with colon cancer. My life changed. Faith shaken. By this time, I was in school full-time and working part-time. In between, I took my dad to daily radiation appointments and weekly chemo treatments. Life continued, but not in the same way as before.

I learned to take each day as it came and not to plan too far in advance. I learned to be thankful for the smallest of things. Like coming home to find dinner on the stove. This way of life continued for 3 years. Then, nearly 10 years ago, I lost my dad to cancer.  You never think you’ll say goodbye to a parent when you’re only 21.

Months later, I realized I needed to find something constructive to do with my time. My heart still hurt but I enrolled in the business management program at the local community college.  After a stint working at an accounting firm it was time to move on.

After a bout with unemployment and asking God for direction, my church began planning a mission trip to South Africa.  It sounded like an adventure and quite possibly a once in a lifetime trip. I spent 10 days loving on complete strangers whose language I didn’t speak. I came back wondering what I was missing. These people had nothing materialistically, yet had everything in terms of joy. I had nearly everything materialistically but lacked the bigger picture. The experience was humbling. Eye-opening.

South Africa (Provided by Emily Dort)


At 28, the next path lead me to school again.  This time, Bible School.  In Florida. To say this was a huge adjustment for me would be a mild understatement. Taking classes, living with 18-year olds, sharing a room, being fifteen hundred miles from family, spending the summer at a camp in the Adirondacks … it was really hard.

But remembering the loss of my dad and remembering life in Africa, I know “hard” was certainly a relative term. Still, I longed for familiarity; family, home cooked meals, and a stable job.

At the end of summer, I did go home to a retail job with unpredictable hours.  Thirty hours this week and 10 the next.  After a year or so of this, a family friend called me about a job.  A night-time custodian at a rural middle school. I came up with 17 excuses as to why this wasn’t a good idea.  I talked to my friend and he told me all the great reasons to work for a school district. I filled out and application and had an interview. I was offered a 20 hour a week position. I accepted.



I don’t ever remember “middle school custodian” being a result for any aptitude tests in high school.  But it was a job with good benefits by today’s standard. I thought this job would be short-lived, maybe just for one school year.  As time went on, my boss offered me a full-time position. I accepted. In my opinion, anytime you can find full-time work with benefits and decent pay, you don’t turn it down.

Now, I’ve now been a middle school custodian for a little over a year and a half.   The same small middle school I attended 20 years ago!  How strange to end up essentially where I started?

I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be where I am today.  I’m not married. I don’t have kids.  But I do have a cat and own a house. I’m not doing my dream job but what defines a dream job for me now, has little to do with the title and everything to do with being happy while earning a consistent pay check.

Whether a custodian, a CEO or a family struggling to find their next meal in Africa; I’ve learned we all put our pants on the same way.

Life may not have turned out like I planned in high school and I have no idea where the road will lead next, but, if and when a new path appears, I’m confident I’ll know what to do.

Jewelry and goods handmade by Emily

Jewelry and pillowcases handmade by Emily

Emily is a long time member of the Cornerstone Baptist Church in Exeter where she is involved with everything from teaching to kitchen crew. She also has a passion for quilting and jewelry making and accepts custom orders. To inquire about a project, drop an email at:



What path did you take beyond high school or college? Did you jump into full-time work? Travel? Join the military? Or perhaps a combination? I’d love to hear from you!  Submit a request with your idea! You don’t have to be a “writer” just passionate about your topic! –Erinne

Erinne Magee

About Erinne Magee

Erinne is a Maine-based writer and freelance editor specializing in first person essays, poetry and picture books. Her work has appeared in publications like: The Washington Post, Redbook, Yahoo News, The Huffington Post, Good Housekeeping and The Toronto Sun. For more, visit: