Moving America Forward

One Man’s Inspiring Rise from Sweeping the Hallways to Calling the Shots

February 12, 2014
One Man’s Inspiring Rise from Sweeping the Hallways to Calling the Shots
La. principal's remarkable success story YouTube
How Port Barre Elementary's Gabe Sonnier went from janitor to principal.

At Port Barre Elementary in Louisiana, the man currently running the school is very familiar with its grounds. In fact, as CBS News reports, principal Gabe Sonnier started working at the school more than 30 years ago as its janitor.

Sonnier’s journey from the custodian’s closet to the principal’s office all started in 1985, when the school’s then principal, Westley Jones, approached the then 39-year-old custodian with a few words that changed his life. “He said, ‘I’d rather see you grading papers than picking them up,'” Sonnier told CBS News.

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He took the words to heart, and like a real life Good Will Hunting, Sonnier pulled double time with mopping floors and pursuing a higher education. If you watch the video above, Sonnier went on to earn a teaching degree and his first teaching job at the elementary school. He even attained a Masters in Science and Education. Last November, he was promoted to the top job.

“Don’t let your situation that you’re in now define what you’re going to become later,” Sonnier, who still cleans his own office, said. “I always tell them it’s not where you start, it’s how you finish.”