Team Recognizes Employee Who Puts Students First
When the morning rush hits Branner Dining Hall, Rafael Velazquez puts on his game face and assumes position behind his omelet station. Within minutes, he faces a Cardinal red wall of student-athletes sporting bedhead, Beats headphones, even a pair of pajamas or two as they line up to wait for one of his made-to-order omelets.
“It’s amazing,” said Alison Jahansouz ’19, a goalkeeper on the women’s soccer team. “Hundreds of athletes come through and he remembers your order –scrambled or not, egg whites, with or without cheese, for here or to go.”
Of course, it’s not just about the eggs.
Rafael Velazquez’s dedication, commitment and caring qualities are the reason he is a 2018 recipient of the Amy J. Blue Award, established in 1991 in honor of the vivacious former associate vice president for administrative services and facilities who died of brain cancer in May 1988.
Alison’s teammate, Kyra Carusa ’18 said, “Rafael is such a kind soul. He always has a smile on his face, asks about our day or tells us how his family is doing. It’s incredible to have that kind of warmth and happiness and love.”
Rafael has worked on campus for 25 years, the last 12 in Stanford Dining at Branner. He says the best part of his job is getting to know the students. He listens when they share the challenges of balancing academics with athletics and reads the Stanford Daily to keep abreast of their sporting events. “After they have their pictures in the paper, I try to congratulate them because they are so excited when they walk in. I am proud of them. They are champions.”
Perks of the job
Certain perks come with being Branner's main man for omelets. It has been exciting to follow the careers of students he has known including Heisman trophy runner-up Andrew Luck ’12, and Super Bowl champion Zach Ertz ’13. On occasion Rafael has been invited by the players to watch the Stanford Cardinal football game down on the field, something he calls “a beautiful experience.”
Even more fulfilling are the friendships Rafael has built over the years. He seems to have formed a special bond with the women’s soccer team.
“We traveled to Spain for a match and somehow he knew. When we got back, he asked about our trip, and spoke to us in Spanish so we could practice,” said Alison.
“He’s the friendliest person I’ve ever met,” agreed player Ceci Gee ’20.
Then, he was gone…
One morning Kyra came into the dining hall and Rafael had disappeared. “It was like this epidemic,” said Kyra. "First the soccer team noticed, then the other teams. ‘Oh my god, Rafael is gone. Why? Did he get moved to a different hall? Should we say something?’”
Weeks went by, then months. Finally, Rafael returned. He sported the same smile, the same gentle presence, only students noticed he looked a little tired, a little more worn around his warm brown eyes. Rafael shared that he had taken time off to receive treatment for a serious medical condition.
It was then that a few players on the women’s soccer team kickstarted a campaign to nominate Rafael for the award.
“It’s so amazing what he’s gone through and he still helps us out every day. We wanted to do something for Rafael,” said Ceci. Their efforts quickly spread to fellow teammates, then to other sports teams.
Rafael was humbled when he learned he had received the award, which is accompanied by a $4,000 cash prize. “Honestly, I try my best every time,” he said, adding praise for his fellow morning crew members, Aida, Victor, Jaime and Milka.
“This award is for employees who put all of their heart and soul into their work, and Rafael could not be more deserving. We are all very proud of his commitment to excellence,” said Eric Montell, executive director of R&DE Stanford Dining.
Shirley Everett, Senior Associate Vice Provost for R&DE adds, “Rafael is respected by students, and his colleagues and managers throughout R&DE and the campus. I am sure everyone who has had the pleasure of working with him will agree that this honor is indeed a fitting tribute. His passion for serving students is evident and in keeping with our mantra of ‘students first’, which is the foundation of R&DE’s core values.”
When President Marc Tessier-Lavigne presents him with the award at a May 15th ceremony and reception at 3:30 p.m. in the Lagunita Courtyard, Rafael’s family – his wife of 22 years, Martina; daughter Michelle, 17; and son Uriel, 13—will be on hand.
Also in attendance? The 2017 NCAA Women’s Soccer champions, who will be there for their own champion — Rafael.
“It is amazing to wake up and have Rafael be the first face students see every morning,” said Kyra Carusa of the Stanford Cardinal women’s soccer team.
“When sports teams first started coming to Branner, Rafael always made our omelets. Soon enough he became someone that every single person enjoyed encountering."