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Joseph ‘Gabe’ Sonnier was recently promoted to the position of principal of Port Barre elementary school in Port Barre Louisiana.

However Mr. Sonnier’s journey started many years ago.  In fact, in 1979 when he dropped out of Southern University in order to help his mom provide for his four siblings, going back to school to finish a degree of any sorts probably seemed out of reach.

This didn’t deter Joseph one bit.  By 1985, Port Barre elementary school’s then-principal, Westley Jones recognized Sonnier’s drive and work ethic, combined with his positive outlook, and gave him this advice, “I’d rather see you grading papers than picking them up.”

That one vote of confidence was all it took.  Well that, and a whole bunch of hard work on Sonnier’s part.  At the age of 39, Sonnier returned to college.  He cared for his custodial responsibilities in the early morning and afternoon and devoted the middle part of his day to furthering his education.  A few years later he was awarded his teaching degree and his first teaching job, at Port Barre elementary school.

Not satisfied, Sonnier continued his pursuit of education, and recently earned his Master’s of Science and Education, and was then promoted to elementary school principal.

His new office is significantly larger and much nicer than his first office, which was nothing more than a cluttered broom closet.  However Joseph ‘Gabe’ Sonnier still has the most contagious smile in the building, and is as down to earth as ever.  He loves his job, and it shows.

Mr. Sonnier’s drive and work ethic amaze, without question.  But his upbeat attitude probably had just as much to do with his level of success.  During his 27 years of being a Port Barre janitor, it’s hard to believe his demeanor was any different.  It’s hard to imagine this man EVER complaining about ANYTHING he was asked to do.

Westley Jones, the principal who encouraged Mr. Sonnier, also deserves a lot of credit.  This was clearly a principal who cared about more than just school-wide test scores or county-wide budget cuts.    He not only knew his staff, all the way down to the janitors, well enough to recognize Sonnier’s potential and desire, but then he had enough compassion to encourage him to pursue his dreams, even at the risk of possibly losing what no doubt was a valuable employee.

The world needs more people like Joseph ‘Gabe’ Sonnier.
The world needs more people like Westley Jones.

Too many children go through high school thinking there is nothing beyond a Wal Mart cash register.  The McDonald’s deep fryer.  The Home Depot apron.  Or in this case, the janitor’s broom closet.  Too many adults go through life thinking that just because they weren’t able to finish their degree in the “normal” time period after high school, that’s the end of the road.  Joseph ‘Gabe Sonnier and Westley Jones prove that with the right attitude and enough hard work, you really can go from the broom closet to the principal’s office.  Movin on up!

If you liked this inspirational news story, check out What’s Your Excuse?