‘What is it about this young man? I could not put my finger on it.’: Assistant principal helps student be first in his family to graduate high school

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“It started on August 1, 2016. This was my first day as assistant principal at Northeast High School in Macon, Georgia. A young man approached me and saluted. He asked me, ‘Sir… were you ever in the military before?’ I responded, ‘No’ and continued to move around the cafeteria, monitoring other students. When revisiting the area where Miles was seated, he asked again, ‘Were you in the military?’  My answer again was ‘No.’ A teacher came over and said, ‘Gabriel, leave Mr. Lanier alone.’ I thought to myself, ‘He’s not bothering me; he’s trying to be funny. I’m sure I’ll see him in my office soon.’

During the school year, I saw Gabriel running from class to class as if he only had two minutes until the next class, instead of five. Time passed on, and during the months of November and December I would miss seeing him in the cafeteria—no more salutes.

Summer came and I was appointed Summer Opportunity School administrator, and guess who enrolled in the Summer Opportunity School? The answer is Gabriel. I did not know his last name. I just knew that for some reason, I could not escape him.

During the first week of summer school, I received a call from a parent named, ‘Ms. Miles.’ I returned her call and after introducing herself to me as Gabriel Miles’ mother, she began to tell me why he missed the previous day of Summer Opportunity School. After listening to her story, it appeared that Gabriel’s absence stemmed from a transportation issue. She and her family had moved during the month of November and no longer lived on the eastside of Macon. With Gabriel no longer having the option of being able to catch the bus or walk to school, she and her family had to figure out a way to get Gabriel to Northeast each school day. As the conversation progressed, I learned that transportation was not the only issue; Gabriel could also be ‘a little lazy.’ This was another obstacle Gabriel’s mother was trying to navigate. As the conversation came to a close, I informed her that he could not miss another day of Summer Opportunity School and that I would pick Gabriel up the next morning, Wednesday, and bring him home.

Kenneth Lanier

As educators, we oftentimes say we really want to help children, but many times that stops at the school house doors. However, in this moment, I felt it to be my calling to help Gabriel. Little did I know, this would be the start of a bond between ‘Miles and Me.’

The conversation between Gabriel’s mother and myself took place in June of 2016, and there has not been a dull or quiet ride to or from school since. During our car rides, ‘Miles’ as I grew to call him, began telling me his story. In vivid detail, Mr. Miles explained overcoming hurdles and hardships that many people would not understand, or simply have not faced. He spoke of moving from place to place, living in a hotel, and serving a sentence in the Regional Youth Detention Center. He also expressed his desire, and concern, about being the first in his family to graduate from high school. I could not fully relate to his story; however, I could relate to not having dependable transportation to get from point A to point B. As a child, my mother never drove, and my father would often have to work. As a matter of fact, as I compared myself to this young man, I realized that although we have a few things in common, we actually are total opposites. He is very outspoken and I on the other hand very reserved. He is a WWE wrestling fanatic. I like ‘The Big Bang Theory.’ He likes the indoors. I like the outdoors. He likes playing his guitar. I like taking pictures. What is it about this young man? I could not quite put my finger on it.

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Mr. Miles just kind of grew on me, and it was not long before I decided that it was my charge to assure that Miles reached his full potential, which started with him graduating from high school and having things in place to help him in his future. It was clear to me that helping Miles meant more than encouragement and/or discipline when needed. It meant I had to extend myself further than anticipated, but I made a commitment to him. If he did all he could, then I would do all I could to help him. I wanted him to own his progress but knew I had to show him what that meant. I also knew that he maybe wasn’t quite as fortunate as others, and that meant my commitment would stretch into my pocket.

However, as an educator, it has always been my desire to do whatever I can to help any and every child tap into the potential they have within themselves. Over the years I’ve come to realize that some need more assistance than others as they make the journey within.

Kenneth Lanier

The time came where I had to attend training in Orlando, Florida, and I could not take Miles to school because I would be away. I made special arrangements to get him to and from school until I returned.  At the training, ironically, the AVID facilitator of our school district placed three quotes on the panel and asked, ‘Which one can you relate to most?’ The quote that I chose was written by Nelson Mandela: ‘Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.’ That quote really resonated with me. I have not always been an educator, nor have I always been ‘successful.’ There have been some very trying times in my life. For our next task, the facilitator asked us to think of one student who inspired us, and without hesitation I wrote down the initials G.M. in my assignment book and on the back of my nametag. At this point, June 26, 2017, I solidified my commitment to help Miles become the first to graduate from high school in his family. My principal was sitting next to me and with conviction, I shared my name with him.

After returning from the trip, I shared with Miles what I had committed to. His response to me was, ‘You really want me to graduate?’ I responded with, ‘You are going to graduate. I will pick you up at 6:15 every morning and be on time. You are going to school if I have to come in the house and drag you out!’ Miles thought that was funny; however, he knew I was sincere about our conversation.

Now the rides to and from school have become our time—time for him to reflect on his school day, ask questions, debate with me, get a haircut, go by Family Dollar for a set of head phones, stop by his dad’s house, talk about his favorite girl, talk about his friends, talk about his teachers, go to computer class (Thursdays), eat a chocolate frosty, or a get a 4 for 4 meal from Wendy’s.

It has been almost one year and guess what, Miles is still my riding partner. It is amazing to see how much the subjects of our conversations have changed since day one. There is still never a dull or quiet moment, but I enjoy it. There is always a sense of excitement in the air when he’s around. We are now talking about the awards and recognition programs that he has been invited to. Believe it or not, the Mayor of Macon proclaimed May 22, 2018, as ‘Gabriel Miles Day’ after he received a Hero Award for overcoming his adversities.

Kenneth Lanier

Miles is excited about graduation, but he’s especially excited about being the first person in his family to graduate from high school. I’m excited about how Miles has overcome adversities, and worked extremely hard, even on Saturdays, to reach this milestone in his life. To top it off, two days ago, I received a call from the Executive Director for Student Affairs of the local technical college inviting Miles, his parents and I for a visit.

Yes, Miles and I will ride to graduation on Saturday, May 26, together, put our caps and gowns on together, march in together, march out together, and begin chapter two of his life. I am extremely proud of him.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by assistant principal Kenneth Lanier of Northeast High School in Macon, Georgia. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

Read more touching stories here:

‘Maybe it’s time to change your major.’ I couldn’t turn to my parents. I’m happy I didn’t listen to that advice.’: Daughter of Mexican immigrants becomes first generation graduate, inspired by brother’s illness

‘I had to drop out of high school. My identity was being ripped from me.’: Young woman devastated after dropping out of school due to mental health problems, later graduates in adult education

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