Carlson Cleans Up Campus


After finally finding an open parking spot, I tossed out my cigarette, grabbed my backpack, and scurried to class, staring into my phone. On the way, I glanced up and noticed a woman walking DSU’s Green Mile. There was something different about her, though; she wasn’t just exercising. I watched as the woman veered off into the flower bed and began to fiddle with something in the bushes.

“What in the world is the lady doing?” I thought to myself.

As I got closer, it became clear to me that she was freeing the bush of a Styrofoam cup. After catching ahold of the garbage, she placed it into the plastic grocery bag worn around her wrist and got back to her walk, keeping her eyes peeled.

As I continued rushing to the class I was already late for, I wondered: “What would it be like if we all picked up the trash we walked by? Why can’t everyone be like her?”—then, I remembered that less than five minutes ago, I tossed a cigarette butt out the window without any hesitation what so ever.

I felt like such an asshole.

I contemplated how she had been picking up the leftovers from my nasty habit. Not only was she taking my sloppiness into her own hands, but this woman was literally climbing into a bush for someone else’s to-go cup. Is this lady even real?

It wasn’t long before our paths crossed again. I instinctively marched up to her, without any type of introduction at all from me, and asked her name.

Fairly taken away by my worst-ever prologue, she replied with a confused look, “Libby Carlson?”

Nervously realizing how random I probably seemed, I told her my name, said thank you, articulated her awesomeness, and gave her a hug—she hugged me back, too, even though I was a complete stranger.

After I ungracefully introduced myself to Carlson, I have seen her every day since, on more days than not, anyways. Wonder why? I was captured by this woman’s good character, yet I only knew her name.

The next time I approached Carlson, I did so with much more confidence. I asked if she would be interested in sharing some of her story with me. I wanted to know why she does what she does. What motivated her to begin this selfless act of kindness? She inspired me to find out more.

Sweet as could be, she agreed to the interview over email, and I bought an ash tray for my car.

Before talking with Carlson, I found out about her past relations with DSU’s nursing department from a friend in casual conversation. Turns out, Carlson had played a significant role in getting the grant funding that would improve the nursing program in tremendous ways.

“Wow. This lady is too good.” I thought.

Once I sent our first email, Carlson and I began to build our friendship, quickly eliminating my bashfulness. In the emails, Carlson told me more about her walks and what influenced her to begin picking up other people’s trash.

She explained that she had been picking up at the least two Walmart sized bags of trash every day since when she started in November of 2016. She added that not only was it good exercise for her, but she had also met very nice people along the way.

“2 bags?! Everyday?!” I exclaimed in my reply.

I wondered if the weather affected her at all. After asking this question, Carlson defended the persistent loyalty to her walks by stating, “I don’t miss any day.”

It takes her about one and a half to two hours to walk the Green Mile three times. She explained further that if she has plans of going out of town for the day, she will go early in the mornings or later in the evenings after returning home, only a block from campus.

It seems so farfetched when trying to imagine that there are some people, like Libby Carlson, who are literally devoting their time to bend over backwards, or dig into a bush, for another person’s bad aim at the trash can. But what motivated Carlson to do this in the first place?

Carlson explained that after retiring in 2016, she began taking these walks for the health benefits after undergoing a major back surgery and physical rehabilitation. In mid-December, Carlson experienced having, what she called, “new eyes.” But what her “new eyes” saw was disheartening.

“Trash was everywhere. It was even blowing by me as I walked,” she explained.

So, Carlson decided that since she walked the Green Mile anyways, why not pick up what she could on the way? She quickly learned to grab a couple of Walmart bags when heading out the door.

Carlson described herself as becoming “blind” of all the trash and liter on campus as she walked to and from all her meetings for eight-teen years. “You see it,” she said. “But in a hurry; so, you ignore it; Eventually, you stop seeing it.”

Unfortunately, that is so true. Most everyone is guilty of being blind. We’re all too focused on trying to get where we’re going, rarely paying any mind to our surroundings.

It wasn’t until walking during last fall’s commencement that Carlson thought of all the family members and friends of the students who were first time visitors, that’s when she started noticing all the trash. She began to look at campus as if she had never seen it before; that is when she started to tidy things up as much as she could.

Eventually, as I learned more about this woman, I realized that Carlson has spent her entire life caring for other people. Along with her daily walks of kindness, at age thirty-four, she enrolled into the United States Air Force Nurse Corp. where she served as a captain. She was in active duty from 1989-1995, and then entered the Air Force Reserve for another three years.

In addition to Carlson’s military service, she spent most of her life teaching through nursing programs and a community college, USM, then DSU.

In 2004, Carlson became the Dean of Nursing, leading to her successfully writing several grants that would fund for the building improvements for larger classrooms, updated equipment, faculty additions and developments, a student navigator to help nursing students succeed in the intense programs, personal counseling, study sessions and more.

Carlson’s work enabled the nursing program to recruit many dedicated and talented nursing faculty members. The nursing enrollment numbers in the undergraduate and Master’s program subsequently tripled at DSU, along with a major success in starting an online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

The amount of kindness Carlson has represented throughout her life time is something we should all strive for, despite the lengths of our to-do lists. What if we all tried to look at campus like we had never seen it before? Don’t be blinded by the constant demand of unfinished chores.

When falling into the cycle of juggling life responsibilities, we tend to lose sight of our surroundings.

Over time, we begin concentrating only on the places we need to go, the people we need to see, and what we need to do. Just look at us, hustling by one another during our daily routines, awkwardly smiling and nodding when glancing up from our screens. We’re all just trying to get from point A to point B before we’re late, again—a careless toss over the trash can is the least of our worries.

Thankfully, this is not the case for Libby Carlson.