-- It was an emotional moment when special education teacher Kimberly Wimbish surprised her student, Jamias Howard, 19, with his graduation cap and gown -- an accomplishment that certainly had its challenges along the way.
“Oh man, thank you,” Jamias Howard told Wimbish in her touching Facebook video that has now gone viral.
“Congratulations,” she replied through the car window.
“Appreciate it, ma’am. I love you so much,” said an overwhelmed Jamias Howard. “Thank you so much for everything you do for me. Appreciate it.”
After his devoted teacher reminded him about his graduation rehearsal at 8 a.m., Jamias Howard can be seen wiping away tears as he once again told her, “I love you so much.”
Jamias Howard’s mom, Trenia Howard, said her son called her at work he was so excited to share the news.
“He said, ‘Mama you need to get home. You need to come home right now. I’m graduating,’” Trenia Howard recalled. “My eyes starting getting teary when I heard that.”
Getting to this heartwarming moment was no easy feat for these two, however.
“Jamias has had his challenges. He had additional challenges that wouldn’t afford him the opportunity to come to school to be educated,” Wimbish, a teacher at Griffin High School in Georgia, told ABC News. “I saw need, and I was able to fulfill that need. I had no problems volunteering to try to help him graduate.”
So that’s exactly what she did, meeting Jamias Howard for private tutoring after she finished teaching a full school day.
“We’d meet at the local library or a local park or Burger King, wherever he could walk to,” she said. “We’d go through lessons and I’d grade him and I’d teach him. He really worked. When I found out he had enough credits, I was just about to explode with excitement.”
Wimbish is used to dealing with difficult student situations, but Jamias Howard was a “very special case,” she said.
“It was like he didn’t trust anyone and he had up a wall. And before you got him, he was gonna get you,” she explained. “It was a challenge. It looked like he was never going to graduate, like he wasn’t going to be able to pull it together. All I could see was things not going well for him from that point on, had he not been given an opportunity to get it right, been given another chance.”
She so badly wanted to afford him that opportunity, and after a few minor setbacks, “He put in his time, and he worked, and I worked, and Lord knows it was a challenge, but it was well worth it,” said the determined teacher.
Jamias Howard is now graduating high school on Saturday, proudly walking across the stage in his hand-delivered cap and gown.
“Everything he’s been through, the challenges he’s faced, he’s going to be happy,” she proudly said of her student. “I had no idea he would get so emotional. He always tried to be a tough guy, but I had to break those walls down.”
“He’s the tough guy, but she got in there like the tough mom. She did not play with him,” his mom agreed. “I respect her and owe her my gratitude for the rest of my life.”
Now Jamias Howard is going to have a whole crowd of people cheering him on from the stands.
“So many people have reached out to me,” said Wimbish. “They want to come to crowd the stadium in an uproar when they announce Jamias’ name. I’m just going to be happy for him and his mother.”
But it will be a proud mother moment for Wimbish too, whose own son is also graduating in the same ceremony.
“I feel like I have two sons graduating,” she said.
Wimbish has set up a GoFundMe page to help Jamias Howard raise money to attend technical school. More than $11,000 has been raised in just two days.