She’s living proof that anything is possible!
A Texas woman persevered against the odds to become a beloved teacher at the same school where she once served as a custodian, Today.com reports.
Wanda Smith always wanted to become a teacher, putting her dreams on hold to take care of her family and mother. For years, she worked as a bus monitor and custodian for the Brenham Independent School District in Texas, starting her days at 6 am and not ending until 11 pm.
“And sometimes I didn’t get to sleep because if mom needed to go to the doctor, I’d just get off and do what I had to do. And I never really thought about it. I just did it because it had to be done,” Smith recalled.
At 37, with the support of her husband, she decided to enroll in college at Blinn Junior College to get her associate’s degree. In 2004, just one year later, she enrolled at Sam Houston State.
“I was totally nervous because all of the children in there, they were children, and sometimes I was older than the professor,” Smith said.
During her academic tenure, Smith encountered devastating losses. Her mother and two sisters passed, almost forcing her to quit school.
"I was so happy to tell them that I was going back to school. They were so proud of me. My sister would be the one I would talk to at night when I was coming home. Then when I lost her, that took a lot out of me. It took a lot out. And yes, I did want to stop. But then my husband, he sat me down, and he let me know that I wasn’t the only one that made sacrifices. And so I was like, ‘Ok, I can do this. I can keep going,'" Smith told reporters.
In 2010, thirty years after graduating high school, Smith graduated from Sam Houston State with her husband and children cheering her on. She then returned to Brenham Elementary, where she worked as a custodian, becoming a first-grade teacher.
“I mean, somebody growing up in the projects that people counted out, I got a diploma. Not only did I get a diploma, I got a bachelor’s degree...When I stand in front of my classroom, I am living my dream,” Smith told reporters.
Smith is now being honored for Teacher’s Appreciation Week. Brenham School principal Kim Rocka called her “the portrait of an American teacher,” and presenting her with a bench outside of the school inscribed with Smith’s favorite phrase, “Be the best that you can be.”
Dr. Alisa White, president of Sam Houston State, presented Smith with a $500 scholarship in her name. The "Wanda Smith Make A Difference Scholarship" will be awarded annually to a Sam Houston State student looking to become a teacher. Brenham mayor, Milton Tate Jr., also joined in on the celebration, declaring Tuesday, May 4th as “Be the Best You Can Be” Wanda Smith Day.
Her husband Darron said he never thought he’d see this day, saying “it [was] awesome!”
“Oh my God, I got a day,” Smith said, becoming emotional as her husband, family, and friends cheered her on.
“Wanda, you’re not just an inspiration to your students, but also to our community,” Mayor Tate said.
Smith said she hopes she passes on the love of education to all of her students.
“I want them to know that school, these are gonna be the best years of your life. And I want them to love school enough that they want to come and see me every day. And if they love me like that, they’re gonna come and see me every day,” she said.
Congratulations, Ms. Wanda! Because of you, they can!
Photo Courtesy of Today.com