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A beloved custodian at Wacoochee Elementary School in Salem, Alabama, Derrick Harris, now 26, made the definitive decision to strive for something more in 2017. Years of interacting with students and cleaning classrooms and hallways had perpetually reminded him of his lifelong dream of eventually becoming a teacher. 

Using the relationships he built at the school, we worked with his fellow faculty to develop a track that would enable night classes at the nearby Wallace Community Community College Selma while keeping his daytime custodian position at Wacoochee, ABC News reports

Fast forward to 2021, and Harris’ persistence paid off with a special farewell graduation ceremony where all of the students and staff he’s come to know and make an impact on got to show their appreciation and praise his hard work. Signs lined the halls that said “you’re my hero” as students cheered and chanted his name. 

"He has been a mentor to so many. He is such a light, a shining light, to everybody he's around," says Wachooche Teacher Tracie Lane. "We congratulate you Derrick. We know the sky's the limit for you."

His next step? Auburn University in Montgomery in the fall, where he plans to continue his educational track toward being a teacher. Harris, who also recent had been hired as a PE assistant, hopes to use that experience to eventually become a physical education teacher himself.

“Just keep going in life,” reflects Harris. “I don’t get down too much on myself or things that’s going on around me, I just keep going.”