AUSTIN (KXAN) — For many students, graduation is a celebratory occasion that calls for plenty of ceremony photos with friends, family, loved ones and professors.
But for 2021 University of Texas at Austin graduate Wes Wofford, his most cherished graduation photo is one with UT parking enforcement attendant Michael Shaw — and nearly 800 Reddit users agree with him.
“I think that Michael is UT’s best kept secret,” he said.
Wofford’s photo with Shaw went viral following this weekend’s commencement ceremony. In the thread, upvoted almost 800 times, more than a dozen other users shared their memories of Shaw as someone whose positive attitude and warm personality left lasting impressions on students.
Wofford first met Shaw in fall 2019 while skateboarding on his daily campus route. Blowing through a stop sign, Shaw called out to Wofford to be careful and slow down next time. But it was the way he said it — with a smirk and laughter in his voice — that stuck with Wofford.
“I would just go by and I would stop at the stop sign on the skateboard — people don’t normally do that on skateboards — and he took notice and he would, would give me a little bit of like, just positivity, some props on the way,” Wofford said. “But one day I stopped, and I was just like, ‘I’m going to talk to this guy. I’m going to have a conversation because he seems like the kind of guy that I would want to have a conversation with.'”
For more than nine years, Shaw has worked as a UT parking enforcement attendant. He said the joy he gains from his job comes from seeing these students grow and evolve as members of the UT community, and how small interactions at 24th and Whitis each day have built friendships.
Shaw greets each pedestrian and vehicle passing through the kiosk with his signature smile and the phrase, “Welcome family.” People want to feel seen and respected, he said, and that starts with simple acts of kindness.
For Wofford, conversations with Shaw centered around life, specifically how to carry one’s self with love and respect and share those same gifts to others. Wofford said Shaw always displayed emotional vulnerability and strength in his chats, and spoke to students as his equals.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, Wofford moved back home to complete coursework remotely. Returning for UT’s commencement ceremony last weekend, Wofford borrowed a friend’s skateboard for one final loop and spotted a familiar kiosk.
Shaw had just finished his shift and was sitting at the intersection just down the road, an employee told Wofford. Blasting down Whitis Avenue, Wofford rolled up to Shaw’s open truck window and was greeted by that familiar smile and laugh.
“After all that time, it was pure elation,” he said. “It was joy that you can’t quite put into words.”
Wofford updated Shaw on his post-graduation plans, including his first post-grad advertising job and impending move to Oklahoma City. Wofford said Shaw told him he was proud of his accomplishments, particularly amid an adverse chapter spurred by the pandemic.
As Wofford discussed his post-grad plans with Shaw, he said Shaw smiled and joked that he’d like an invitation to Wofford’s wedding when the time comes. Right now, Shaw’s name is at the top of the list.
“I just can’t tell you how much he has poured into me as a student, as a friend and as a role model,” Wofford said. “He is such an incredible human being.”
When students request a graduation photo with Shaw or pay his kiosk a visit on trips back to campus post-graduation, he said it’s a reminder that every interaction — every smile, high five, hello or pieces of wisdom — always pays it forward.
“That humbles me and it makes me feel even more appreciated, just the little things that these students do,” he said. “If it’s just a smile, just throwing up your horns, just to let me know that they not only see me, but that they acknowledge me just like I try to acknowledge them and let them know that, ‘Hey, I see you. I recognize you.'”
For Wofford, he said his photo with Shaw is a lasting reminder of all the lessons learned at UT, with the most important ones coming from outside the classroom.
“All of my professors, they taught me how to do a job, and how to do it very well,” Wofford said, adding: “Michael taught me how to be as a human, and there’s no real teaching — there’s not a class on that.”