Hardworking Janitor Became Principal Of The School He Cleaned For 27 Years

CBS Sunday Morning

Sometimes the dreams we have when we’re kids don’t always work out as planned. Sometimes life circumstances cause us to change our plans and decide that our dreams and goals aren’t that important. School Principal Joseph “Gabe” Sonnier can relate, but his story proves that it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

After high school, Sonnier started to attend college, but then life happened. His parents separated, and his mom needed help paying the bills. He decided to drop out of college and start working to help her out.  He told PEOPLE, “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 took multiple jobs. He worked in construction. He worked at a grocery store and later a sawmill. Then he took a job that he ended up sticking with a lot longer than he expected. The job also ended up eventually changing his life.

Sonnier started working as a janitor at Port Barre Elementary. His father had done the same job for many years. Sonnier ended up working there a lot longer than he expected. He explained, “When I first started, it was my intention to work five, maybe 10 years as a janitor and then look to do something else.” 

Several years after taking the job as a janitor, the school’s principal, Wesley Jones, took Sonnier aside and told him something that he would take to heart. Jones said, “Being a janitor is a good job and it’s an honest living, 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.”

Sonnier ended up working as a janitor for 20 years, but then, in 2000, he decided to go back to school and actually try to become a teacher. It took years of hard work, but he made it happen. He would start work at 5am, go to college classes at Louisiana State University Eunice and the University of Louisiana during the day, and then go back to work as a janitor at night.

The hard work paid off. In 2006, Sonnier got his associates degree, and in 2008, he got a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Louisiana. 

After 27 years working as a janitor, Sonnier got a teaching job, but he wasn’t done yet. He went back to school to get his masters degree, and now, he is the principal at Port Barre Elementary.

Watch the video below to hear Sonnier tell his story himself and to see what his “office” looked like as a janitor and what his office looks like now.