Saint Mary’s University has 6,373 students, but there is only one Carol.
Carol Ann Silvia makes sure no one leaves The Gorsebrook Lounge without a smile and a full stomach. Her positivity and kindness has made her a staple at Saint Mary’s since she started working at the campus pub five years ago.
“I don’t know how this happened here. I don’t know how I got so lucky. I’m grateful every day. Honestly, it changed my life,” says Silvia.
Silvia, 51, started working as a server when she was 16 years old. In 2012 she was struggling to find a job when a neighbour told her about an opening at The Gorsebrook.
Every weekday, when students are stressed about school, Silvia is there to listen. When they forget their lunch, Silvia sometimes buys them a meal. When they are too busy to celebrate a birthday, she tries to bring out a cake so they can blow out a candle and make a birthday wish.
“She has been like a mother and a sister for all of us here at Saint Mary’s,” says Saint Mary’s University Students’ Association president Ossama Nasrallah. “Especially in our hard times, she has always been there for us.”
Pasha Mayugan, a former SMU student, recently returned to The Gorsebrook during Silvia’s shift to say hello and give her a hug. He says he always makes sure to visit her.
“She’s just a wonderful human being; you cannot leave feeling bad after you see Carol,” he says.
Mayugan remembers the first time Silvia met a struggling friend he had brought with him to The Gorsebrook Lounge. He says Silvia went out of her way to listen and show some kindness by buying the woman a chocolate bar.
Silvia remembers that day, but she doesn’t make a big deal about it. She says she likes to give out chocolate from the vending machine because when she’s sad, she eats chocolate to feel better.
Her co-workers also cherish her extreme kindness. Fellow server Travis Evans recalls the time Silvia took on more than her own job. Silvia served drinks behind the bar, to ensure Evans wouldn’t be overwhelmed on a busy day.
“She’s actually one of the really good people in this world,” says Evans.
As co-workers share stories about Silvia to The Signal, she creates a sweet drink, on the house, for a custodian who came in to say hello.
“When you’re about to give up, she gives you the push you need,” says Seliman Yammine, another Gorsebrook server. “She helps you learn from your mistakes.”
Preston Matthews, Silvia’s supervisor, says he loves waking up to motivational text messages from Silvia, wishing him a positive day.
“You can call on her for anything,” says Matthews. “She feeds me too.”
In 2016, Saint Mary’s University honoured Silvia with the Harold G. Beazley Award for the greatest assistance to students, thanking her for the kindness and support she has shown students. At the time, Silvia says she had been so overwhelmed for a friend receiving an award she hadn’t realized her own name had been called. She keeps the award on her wall at home.
Customers often stop their conversations to say hello to her. Silvia says she feels overwhelmed by the kindness she receives from other people, simply because she is kind to them. She often receives notes on napkins, which she keeps on a bulletin board in her home.
“It’s more than just serving them a Husky burger,” says Silvia. “I wish I could give them the world and fix all their problems. I wish they knew they mean the world to me.”
Silvia says she made a choice to spread kindness. After years of struggling with her mental health, she decided she wanted to be happy, and started by smiling at people on the street. Silvia says she used to think life was about cars, houses and money, but meeting the students and seeing them succeed has taught her it’s important is to be kind.
“I realized it’s that simple in life,” she says.
Now, Silvia wakes up every morning and helps her “mother-in-law,” a former boyfriend’s mother, get ready for the day, and heads to her full-time job at The Gorsebrook. Each day starts off with what she says is a regular routine, but ends with a glass of wine and about 50 new stories.
“I know it sounds goofy, but it feels like coming home,” says Silvia.
Nasrallah says Silvia is the students’ “biggest motivator” and can’t imagine coming to campus without her there.
“When you see Carol, just say thank you.”