Cleaning and sharing wisdom

Published: November 23rd, 2009

Category: Spotlights

Melinda Augustus

Melinda Augustus

Custodian, Florida Museum of Natural History

Melinda Augustus thought she was volunteering for a small student film project when she agreed to be featured in the documentary “The Philosopher Kings.” Instead, her role on camera proved personally transforming.

The film travels the halls of seven prestigious American colleges and universities in search of wisdom from the unheralded experiences of eight school custodians. Basic truths about purpose, family and love surface as the film weaves through the lives of these “ordinary” people whose tools are not books or computers, but mops and dust cloths.

Gloria Grant, Augustus’ supervisor, approached her about the documentary after the film crew visited UF looking for potential participants.

“I’m here in this custodian position because I want to be here,” she said in the movie.

Augustus also shares intimate details about her childhood including the devastating loss of her mother at age 9. While in the hospital giving birth to her 15th child, Augustus’ mother received an accidental overdose of anesthesia that put her into a coma until she died 11 years later.

Augustus said talking about her mother’s coma and death with the film crew was a healing point.

“Our family structure and interactions suffered greatly when Mom was lost to us,” Augustus remembered. “She laid in bed at home, but I couldn’t talk to her. You always want something you can’t have, and as a kid, I couldn’t have time with my mother.”

Now, Augustus takes time to appreciate the calm beauty of the museum as she cleans. “To see the butterflies flutter about so carefree, so lightly and trouble-free, it’s a wonderful feeling,” she says on camera. “If I can get that out of life, then that’s a good thing.”

“The Philosopher Kings” debuted in June 2009 at the Silverdocs Film Festival in Ithaca, N.Y. Augustus walked the red carpet with five other cast members and viewed the film for the first time. Numerous film festivals and higher learning institutions across North America have screened the award-winning documentary. The Florida Museum will host a public screening on Feb. 16, 2010.

Although the eight custodians in the movie have never met, they have become close friends through frequent phone calls and e-mails. Augustus said she intends to stay in touch with each one and continues to take pride in her work.

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