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Special ed teacher surprises student with graduation cap and gown, brings him to tears

Jamias Howard never thought he was going to graduate high school.

The 19-year-old senior at Griffin High School in Georgia had "some challenges" and wasn't able to come back to school for the last semester, which started in January, Kimberly Wimbish, a special education teacher at the school, told CBS News. 

Wimbish couldn't go in details about Howard's history, but she said he was so close to finishing she volunteered to work with him outside of school in order for him to get the diploma he's always dreamed of.

At 19, Jamias Howard was afraid he wouldn't be able to graduate high school. Facebook/Griffin-Spalding (PSA) Community Bulletin Board

"I worked with him after I finished work," Wimbish said. "I met him out at a library, a park, Burger King — wherever he could. We'd have class out in the community."

For the past five months, Wimbish has been working to develop a relationship with Howard, which, she admits, was difficult at first.

"He has a tough exterior, but on the inside he's kind," Wimbish said. "If you can reach down and peel back those layers, that toughness, there's something there."

Now she considers him one of her own.

"When you're teaching and build a relationship with your students you basically become a parent. So there are times when he gets the teacher and times when he gets the momma. Sometimes he gets the momma and teacher combined, only when I have to give him the business," Wimbish joked.

When it finally neared the end of the semester, Howard asked Wimbish if he would graduate. At first, Wimbish wasn't sure he'd meet the criteria in time.

The teen didn't order a graduation cap and gown, assuming he wouldn't make it.

But in the school office several days later, Wimbish learned Howard would be able to graduate with the rest of the Class of 2017.

"It was extremely special for me," Wimbish said.

So special, in fact, she decided to drive over to Howard's house and deliver the good news in person — along with his very own cap and gown.

Wimbish shared the tear-jerking exchange on Facebook — with hashtags including #HeWorkedSoHard, #BoutDroveMeBananas and #MakesItAllWorthIt — and it went viral with more than 277,000 video views.

When you surprise your student with his cap and gown! #GriffinHighSchool #WeAreGriffin #HeWorkedSoHard #BoutDroveMeBananas #HeDidntKnowHeWasGraduating #MakesItAllWorthIt #ClassOf2017

Posted by Kimberly Wimbish on Friday, May 19, 2017

"Oh man, thank you," Howard can be heard saying as he grabs the cap and gown from his teacher.

"Congratulations!" a proud Wimbish said.

"Appreciate it, ma'am. I love you so much!" he said.

"I love you, too. You good?"

"Yes, ma'am. Appreciate it. Thank you so much for what you do for me. Appreciate it," Howard replied as he wiped tears from his eyes and walked away.

"Don't cry!" Wimbish yelled.

She expected Howard to be happy, but she was not prepared for his emotional reaction.

"He said, 'I love you so much,' about three times," Wimbish said. "I was shocked because he tries to be a tough guy. To see him being vulnerable was really refreshing."

Jamias Howard in his cap and gown. Kimberly Wimbish, a special ed teacher at Griffin High School in Georgia, hopes her 19-year-old student will continue his education. GoFundMe

Howard is going to walk across the stage and receive his diploma in a graduation ceremony on Saturday, the same day as Wimbish's son.

"Now I feel like I have two kids graduating," she said. "To me, it's the perfect ending to a story you know was different in nature."

Wimbish doesn't know Howard's exact post-graduation plans, but she hopes to raise some money to help him with college or technical school. 

"He's interested in being an auto mechanic," she said. "We'll help him find the right fit to meet his needs."