When it comes to the education system, custodians and cafeteria workers are often the forgotten foundation.
While they’re not working with children directly in the classroom every day, they do create a kind, caring environment where children can thrive and grow. Simply put: without them, the school wouldn’t be the same.
James Anthony is a custodian at Hickerson Elementary School in Tullahoma, Tennessee.
The kind-hearted man is a familiar face to generations of students around town, having worked in the school district for nearly thirty years. Now, at sixty years old, he’s spent the past fifteen years making Hickerson Elementary his home away from home.
The kids absolutely love Anthony, but because he is deaf, communication can be difficult.
For the most part, that hasn’t stopped them from developing a bond with the kind-hearted senior. “Mr. James teaches the kids sign language every now and then,” principal Jimmy Anderson told Fox17 News.
“[He] teaches them good manners and how to treat other people.”
This year, when the kindergarteners learned Anthony’s 60th birthday was approaching, they wanted to help him celebrate with a little surprise.
They wanted to wish him a happy birthday— so they enlisted their kindergarten teachers for a bit of help. The teachers, Alyssa Heartsfield and Amy Hershman, then combined their two classes to teach the kids how to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ in a language Mr. Anthony could understand.
“They really love him,” Hershman told ABC News.
Even though the students are barely old enough to read and write, they were able to master the song Happy Birthday in a surprisingly quick amount of time. “The kids were super excited— they learned that song in probably five minutes,” Hershman said.
On the day of his birthday, they called Mr. James into the room.
As you can imagine the custodian was shocked and overjoyed to see their special message.
In the video, you see him hobbling into the room. When he looks up and realizes what is going on, he’s immediately surprised.
He observes the scene, frozen for a few moments, before raising his hands in an expression of disbelief and cackling in unadulterated joy. Later, Hartsfield told Good Morning America (obtained via ABC News):
“His reaction was ecstatic. He cried, and of course, we got emotional with him.”
“After it was over, he said, ‘This is the best birthday present you could’ve given me.”
The school uploaded the heartwarming video to their Facebook page, where it immediately went viral. At the time of this writing, it has over 300,000 views.
The comments are loaded with praise for the teachers and students— but there’s also a ton of praise for the janitor, himself. Catching wind of the story, former friends and students wished the janitor a happy birthday, sharing memories of their past:
“He was always in the gym with us during and after practice! He played pick up ball with us every time the high school gym was open! We have been friends for a long, long time.”
“Happy birthday James! I remember him from Jones elementary… he was my basketball coach one year! Always a happy man. Such a joy to be around.“
“Please tell Mr. James that I wish him the happiest of birthdays! His joy infectious.”
Watch the heartwarming moment below!
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