June 14, 2021

Timothy Harrison went to work at the Waffle House on the day of his high school graduation because he and his family didn't have a ride to the venue, which was an hour away -- and his mother, who works at a daycare center, couldn't get the day off, anyway.

“I didn’t have a ride, I didn’t have tickets, and it was a plan that I couldn’t put together all the way,” Harrison said.

So, he opted to go to the Waffle House instead, in the hope that he would still be able to work his usual shift. He explained to his co-workers why he was skipping out on the ceremony.

His manager jumped into action.

“I said, ‘Go home, get your paperwork, call the school, and we will figure out the rest,’ ” said (Cedric) Hampton, 38, who has worked at the Waffle House for four years. “For me, it was a no-brainer. Graduation is one of those things you get to do once in life, and when you’ve worked all these years going to school to have that moment, it’s necessary to be there.”

The rest of the employees went to work. One drove him to the high school to pick up his cap and gown, while another went to Target to buy him a new outfit. Employees chipped in $40 apiece for a pair of pants, a dress shirt and tie, and matching gray shoes.

And although they couldn't attend the ceremony because of pandemic restrictions, his fellow employees waited in the parking lot to greet the new graduate.

After faculty members at Lawson State Community College in Birmingham saw Harrison’s story on the local news, they offered him a full scholarship and the cost of his books. He will be attending in the fall, studying business and computer science.

This is such a wonderful story (not least because Timothy only worked at the Waffle House for a little over a month).

I just want to remind everyone that our country has so much untapped potential, due to the high costs of poverty. Something as simple as buying new shoes is out of reach for too many people. Like a lot of poor kids, Timothy had a pair of sneakers -- and they weren't permitted under the graduation dress code.

While we can celebrate what happened for this young man, we also work to make sure we support policies that provide access to resources -- so young people like Timothy can reach their potential.


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