A school bus driver in Massachusetts said the students he drove to school inspired him to go back to the classroom. Now, he's completed his associate's graduate, hoping to eventually work with kids in another capacity – as a teacher.
Clayton Ward's family owned a school bus company in Tennessee, and when he moved to Massachusetts, he followed in their footsteps and became a school bus driver. Ward attended college 10 years ago but dropped out after a few semesters.
"I never lost that need or that want to do more schooling or have a degree," Ward told CBS News on Tuesday.
"I got the inspiration [to go back] after talking specifically to my high schoolers about a passion of mine, which is history," Ward said. "Just talking with them a little bit about history ... it inspired me, especially hearing them say, 'You should be my teacher.'"
So, in May of last year, he enrolled at MassBay Community College while still driving a bus in Framingham full-time. His ultimate goal was to become a high school history teacher.
Ward said eventually, the students that he talked to on the bus learned that he had gone back to school. "It came up in conversation, especially some of the older ones who are starting to look at colleges ... I said, 'If you're looking at community college, you should look at MassBay, it's a good school,'" he said. "Once they realized that I was going to school, they started asking questions about what it was like and stuff like that."
At MassBay, Ward focused on doing his best in school while continuing to work, and he earned a spot on the Dean's list every semester. He was also indicted into the Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society, MassBay said in a press release about Ward.
Ward said he was inspired to do well by a quote his former high school band teacher "drove into his head every day."
"It's about your discipline. It's not about doing the right thing when people are watching you, it's doing the right thing when they're not watching you," he said.
He was especially grateful for school when the pandemic hit. He no longer had to get up for work, and his classes gave his days some structure, he said.
Now that he's finished his associate's degree – in three semesters – Ward is going to Framingham State to complete his bachelor's degree.
"It's right in the area where I would like to teach, because Framingham is a lower-income city. That's where I'm geared to go towards, just because of my experience. Even with my family and their bus company, a lot of the routes we did were through lower-income housing," he said.
Ward will attend MassBay's virtual commencement ceremony on Tuesday night, and said some friends would be joining him to celebrate the accomplishment.
"I'm still on cloud nine," he said. "I didn't think I would ever be at this point ... I expected to do well, but I didn't imagine doing straight As, I didn't imagine being on the Dean's list, getting three or four awards for having one of the best GPAs for the graduating class. It's still kind of all surreal to me."
The graduate said maybe it will all set in when they announce his name during the virtual graduation. "But for now, I still have my head up in the clouds – which is driving me more."
Ward said he has one message for the high schoolers who inspired him: "You guys mean so much to me. I thank you for every time we were able to talk. It gave me more of a drive, more ambition to go [to school]."
for more features.