When Gabe Sonnier first started working as a janitor Port Barre Elementary in Port Barre, LA his smile would light up the school’s halls.His smile still brightens the whole building but he’s not grinning while mopping the floors.Now you’ll find his smile coming from the principal’s office. Sonnier, who spent about 27 years as the school’s janitor, ended up becoming its principal.
“He made us feel safe and comfortable. He was the person who made us happy,” Laci Polotzola told People.Polotzola attended the school when Sonnier was a janitor and her children now attend the school where he is principal.Sonnier was inspired to grow his education and work his way up to being a teacher, then principal by one of the school’s previous principals.
Principal Wesley Jones pulled him aside in 1985 and told him that he’d rather see him as a teacher.
“He said, ‘Being a janitor is a good job and it’s an honest living,’ ” Sonnier, said. “But I taught you unlimited potential. I think you’d benefit the students better as an educator. I’d rather see you grading papers than picking them up.’”
So, 15 years later when he was 39, he would study in the classrooms he wasn’t cleaning and went to college to get his teaching degree while working full time.
“I would come to work at like five in the morning and leave for seven and go to school all day and come back and finish up my eight hours of work here then go home and do homework,” he told FOX 2 Now.
He then became a third-grade teacher at the school district.
He went on to get his master’s degree and eventually became principal in 2013.
“Who would have thought 33 years ago, when I set foot on this campus, that I’d eventually be the leader of this school?” Sonnier said.
Sonnier said he planned to finish college but had to drop out in his first semester after his parents separated and he had to help his mom with the bills.
“My mother was a housekeeper and she needed help with the bills, so I went into the workforce. I was going to do anything to help my mom,” Sonnier said. “When I first started, it was my intention to work five, maybe 10 years as a janitor and then look to do something else.”
Now Sonnier is able to offer words of encouragement to the rest of the school’s staff as Jones once did for him.
“He definitely gives people hope,” teacher Tonya Stelly said.
She was also a student when Sonnier was a janitor and her children now attend the school.
Even though he was the principal, Sonnier still insisted on cleaning his own office.
He hopes that his story will inspire others not to give up on their dreams.
“Don’t let your situation that you’re in now define what you’re going to become later,” Sonnier told CBS. “I always tell them it’s not where you start, it’s how you finish.”
Sonnier’s inspirational story was shared across several prominent news outlets.
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