After 30 Years as a School Janitor, Gabe Sonnier Becomes a Principal

Have you ever taken the time to say hello to the person who cleans your office building, your apartment building or your child’s school every day?  If not, you may be missing out on a chance to talk to some remarkable human beings with hearts of gold. And one of those remarkable people is Gabe Sonnier – a man who is the true epitome of what it means to never give up.

Gabe has worked at Port Barre Elementary School in Port Berry, Louisiana for over 30 years. His journey started in 1985 as the school janitor, where he cleaned hallways, classrooms and bathrooms for over three decades.

Thanks to some encouraging words from then principal Westley Jones, at age 39,  Gabe set his sights on a higher goal: furthering his education and becoming a school principal.

Gabe tells his inspiring story below, reminding us of the amazing things that can happen when you never give up.

Video courtesy of CBS Sunday Morning

If I had kids, I do know one thing: I would want him or her to be influenced by an inspirational principal just like Gabe.

After watching that video and feeling the positive energy Gabe gives out, I feel inspired to go for whatever it is I want in my own life. Though a goal may seem so far away and so insurmountable compared to a present situation, why can’t it be reached over time?

So how exactly did Gabe accomplish his goal? In his own words:

“I would get to school at 5 a.m. and then leave at 7 a.m. to get to LSU. After classes, I would come back at 8:30 pm and work the rest of my hours, usually until around midnight. Then I would go home and do homework and get two to three hours of sleep.”

Now that’s what I call dedication.

Gabe was clearly committed to finding a positive perspective, despite the early mornings and late nights he had to endure to make his dream a reality.

Was it easy all the time for Gabe to manage his job, his education and moments of self-doubt that plague all of us at one time or another? Of course not. Gabe is simply a man who wanted to manifest his dream more than he wanted to dwell on the inconveniences it would take to get there.

This story is especially close to my heart for a few reasons.

First, because I really love the janitors who work in my building. Raphael, Jose and Alex always take the time to say hello to me. They always take the time to make sure the apartment building I live in is healthy and clean. And they always take the time to send me a smile, regardless of how busy they are gathering the trash or mopping down the hallways so no one slips and falls.

The second reason I feel compelled to share this inspiring story about Gabe has to do with something that happened last summer. In a group social setting, someone I don’t know very well made a comment about the father of a girl with whom his daughter went to school.

“Come on, I mean the guy is just a janitor. A janitor – really?”

Trying to cool my jets, I calmly responded, “What’s wrong with being a janitor?”

Caught a bit off guard by my honest and direct question, he didn’t have much of a response. He mumbled and seemed confused about how to answer.

Perhaps one day he will realize that every person has value, regardless of society’s stereotypes about certain jobs being “better” than others. There’s dignity in cleaning a school, an office or a restaurant so that children and adults can learn, work and nourish their bodies.

Each person who is “just a janitor” has dreams, just like you and me. He or she is a human being that deserves the utmost respect, regardless of what their pay stub may say.

And he or she just may be someone like Gabe Sonnier who inspires all of us to never give up.

I think Gabe says it best:

“Don’t let your situation that you’re in now define what you’re going to become later. It’s not where you start, it’s how you finish.”

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