THE FINAL MEASURE WAH-CHIU LAI, AN ETHNOMUSICOLOGY SCHOLAR AND KENT STATE CUSTODIAL SERVICES EMPLOYEE, HAS BEEN WORKING TOWARD HIS DOCTORAL DEGREE FOR ALMOST 15 YEARS. AS HIS DISSERTATION DEADLINE RAPIDLY APPROACHES, HE TRIES TO STRIKE A BALANCE BETWEEN A GRUELING WORK SCHEDULE AND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT. WORDS BY EMILY MILLS PHOTOS BY EMILY KAELIN
Wah-Chiu Lai snaps on a pair of rubber gloves and grabs a broom from the utility closet. He’s wearing an olive green shirt embroidered with “Kent State University Residence Services,” and his first name, Wah, in yellow thread. He sweeps the men’s bathroom on the fourth level of Lake Hall, making sure he picks up every last dirt particle from the tile floor. He pauses his sweeping, fishes in the deep pockets of his black work pants and pulls out a scrap of paper with a hectic scribble of letters and Chinese characters. He puts the crumpled paper back in his pocket with hands that are wrinkled and arthritic. These same hands used to play instruments with absolute precision, but now they work to keep Kent State’s buildings clean.