All summer, Micheala Lee, the iconic Pitchfork’s cashier known at Duke for her joy and positivity, was expecting an exciting phone call from her manager about how things would run in the fall.
They had told her in early May that circumstances at Pitchfork’s “would be okay through the summer, but during the fall, things may change,” according to Lee. When she finally got the phone call last week, the news was far from what she had imagined.
“They told me they have to downsize, and with that, they’ll have to change their hours of operation as well,” Lee said. “And they just don’t have a spot for me anymore.”
Her manager told her there was no hidden reason behind her being let go.
“It was a really hard blow, especially when I was expecting a phone call with some very exciting news. It was really, really devastating,” Lee said.
Lee posted on her Instagram story last Wednesday to announce the news.
“To all my dear friends at Duke.. I regret to inform you that I was not elected to return to Pitchfork’s for the next semester … it really breaks my heart as I write this but I truly appreciate the love you all gave to me. Please keep in touch!”
‘This door was closed for a reason’
Lee said that she loved working at Duke so much because it gave her the chance to meet plenty of new people.
“I love to have the chance to be able to make a difference in someone’s life, even if it’s with a smile to brighten your day,” Lee said. “I was given a multitude of opportunities to do that for you guys and I really do appreciate the love that you reciprocated.”
Lee added that the outpouring of support and love she received while at Duke was unexpected and even “a bit overwhelming” at times.
“I really don’t know what to do with all the love you guys pour out to me because I'm not used to so much being given back. I’m used to being the giver all the time and everything, so to actually get it back has been amazing.”
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When Lee first received the phone call from her manager, she described feeling unwanted, but the outpouring of support from students “really turned around that experience” for her.
Lee’s feelings are still complicated, she said.
“I feel, optimistically thinking, that this door was closed for a reason. Maybe there’s a bit of a better opportunity somewhere for me, whether it be on campus or maybe elsewhere,” she explained.
She also described feeling “kind of a relief” that she will no longer have to always hide behind a smile. Lee explained that even when she was feeling down, she felt like she had to brush it off and “be the happy person that you guys are used to seeing me be.”
Lee asked for students to “keep [her] uplifted.” She requested that they keep her and her family in their thoughts, to let her know of any opportunities on campus and to reach out on social media if they want her to visit campus.
Lee also wants students to let her know of any productions, like dance or music performances, going on so she can “just be there for you.”
Always ‘a positive memory’
Lee started working in Pitchfork’s in February 2020. Since then, she has been named a “Dynamite Dining Devil” of the week by Duke Dining, a superlative “for going above and beyond in the workplace.”
But it was not just Duke Dining that appreciated Lee’s work. She is adored by many for the joy and excitement she exudes whenever she interacts with people. Some students recalled going to Pitchfork’s just to see Lee when they needed their day to be brightened.
Malini Narula, a junior, would sometimes wake up in the mornings unexcited for another day of classes and the stressful elements of college. She would go to Pitchfork’s and see Lee, who was “always so happy” and made Narula’s day better.
“She knew every person’s name and she would remember little details about every student,” Narula said. Lee told The Chronicle previously that she would ask every student for their name and call out the student’s name to pick up their order instead of their order number—“I felt like people were more than numbers,” Lee said.
Similarly, Morgan Biele, a junior, explained that on days when she was particularly tired, she would make an effort to go to Pitchfork’s and see Lee.
Once, Biele introduced a friend to Lee and noticed how quickly she connected with him. She was “so delighted to meet a new face.”
“The whole student body getting to experience her energy was the coolest thing because it was so tangible,” Biele said. “And right there in front of me, she was having such an easy, impactful interaction with the students.”
For sophomore Tess DiMenna, Lee had “come to be like [her] big sister.”
“She was like my family on campus,” DiMenna wrote. “I am devastated to see her go and I know many others feel the same.”
DiMenna noted that Lee was a “comforting and consistent presence in an otherwise chaotic and unpredictable year” and that she’s excited to see Lee and her three kids on campus when they come.
Students feel that the environment of Pitchfork's will not be the same without Lee.
“I think the only way to describe her is a ray of sunshine,” Narula said.
For Biele, “every single time I was there, it was a positive memory.”
Leah Boyd is a Pratt junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 117th volume.