Started from the bottom

Host Lionel Franklin presented Port Barre Elementary Principal Joseph “Mr. Gabe” Sonnier with a Key to the City of Donaldsonville on behalf of Mayor Leroy Sullivan and the City Council after speaking to the youth at the Back to School Symposium at DHS.

Many always say, “It's not where you start but where you end,” and for those who don’t believe they should ask Port Barre Elementary Principal Joseph “Mr. Gabe” Sonnier. Sonnier is the principal of the same school he was responsible of cleaning as a janitor. Now, he is able to tell his story that basically starts with, “I started from the bottom now I’m here.”

Sonnier spoke to a large audience at Donaldsonville High’s Back to School Symposium on Friday, Aug. 1 at the DHS commons. The symposium welcomed a packed house of middle school and high school students, and even a few college students. Students went into sessions where they were reminded to “rejoice,” be “revitalized,” be “rejuventated,” and be “restored.” All sessions taught by community leaders from Mayor Leroy Sullivan, Ascension Parish Lt. Colonel Bobby Webre, Rev. Michael Washington, and Harold Mellieon, Jr.

After the sessions, Sonnier took the podium to tell his journey from janitor to principal – and wasn’t just about cleaning floors and wiping tables.

In 2000, Sonnier made a decision to go back to college and along the way there were plenty obstacles, first losing his home.

“I wanted to become educated,” Sonnier said, and enrolled in Louisiana State University at Eunice.

In 2005, his father was diagnosed with Lou Gerhig’s Disease. In December of that same year his father passed, which was hard. But what made it harder, Sonnier said, was he passed during the week of finals for school. He had to take his final or he would get an incomplete for the class.

“So I had to plan the funeral, study for finals, and bury my daddy,” Sonnier said. “However, through it all I finished that semester with a 4.0 (grade point average).”

The obstacles didn’t stop there though, Sonnier said. Five months later, his mother who had been in remission from cancer for 16 years, the cancer came back with a vengeance and again during the week of finals his mother passed away.

“I had to repeat that process all over again, but I did persevere,” he said, “and I finished that semester with a 4.0.”

After the loss of his home and the losses of both his parents, Sonnier continued to persevere and reach his goal. He told the audience God had a plan for him, but “we have to wait on Him, we cannot do it ourselves.”

After Sonnier’s talk, the host for the evening Lionel Franklin presented him with a Key to the City of Donaldsonville on behalf of Mayor Leroy Sullivan and the City Council, DHS’ Principal Marvin Evans presented him with a token of appreciation, and DHS’ Associate Principal Darryl Comery presented him with a shirt that read, “Product of Donaldsonville.”

“Even though Mr. Gabe is not from here, he is still a product of here because anytime you can come here and put yourself in our kids shoes and sew a seed into our kids, you are a part of us,” Comery said.

After the event, Ascension Parish School Board Parent Facilitator Wanda August said the event was great.

“This was designed to get the kids motivated for the upcoming school year,” August said. “It was awesome. God gets all the glory.”