Teen thought he’d miss his high school graduation. His Waffle House ‘family’ wouldn’t let him.
When Timothy Harrison walked out of his high school graduation ceremony, it was his Waffle House co-workers who were waiting, cheering for him in the parking lot.
But getting Harrison to the ceremony wasn’t easy. It was all hands on deck.
On the day of his graduation from Woodlawn High School in Alabama, Harrison instead arrived for his 7 a.m. shift.
His manager, Cedric Hampton, was shocked and confused.
“Why are you here?” Hampton asked. “You’re supposed to be graduating today.”
Harrison’s mother was working that day, and he didn’t have tickets or a ride to the ceremony. He was also working during the school’s graduation rehearsal, where mandatory items likes caps and gowns were distributed.
“I didn’t have a way to get there,” he said. “I didn’t have a plan.”
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Timothy Harrison poses with his Waffle House co-workers, who helped him get to his high school graduation ceremony. (Photo: Cedric Hampton)
When Harrison got to work that day, he felt defeated. He just wanted to get through the day and go home.
“It felt like I can’t make up for it,” he said. “(Graduation) is not something I can make up another time.”
Hampton said he knew just by looking at Harrison that he wanted to go.
“This is once in a lifetime, and he knew it,” Hampton said.
So, Hampton told Harrison to get his paperwork and call the school to say he’d be there.
“I said I’d take care of the rest,” he said. “We were going to make it work, no matter what.”
With the ceremony at 3 p.m., Harrison’s Waffle House co-workers made plans to divide and conquer.
One employee drove Harrison to his high school to pick up his cap and gown. The staff and a few customers pooled about $50 to buy Harrison a new outfit, and the restaurant’s assistant manager showed up on her day off to buy the new clothes from Target. She came back with gray pants, a light blue dress shirt, a tie and gray shoes.
Timothy Harrison smiles in the new outfit his Waffle House co-workers bought him for his high school graduation ceremony. (Photo: Cedric Hampton)
“It was a family affair,” Hampton said. “We were all ready to rally around him to make sure he enjoyed this special day.”
When Harrison stepped out of the Waffle House bathroom in his new clothes, Hampton called it a surreal moment. He said Harrison wore a gigantic grin across his face, and cheers erupted from the restaurant.
“His smile lit up the room,” Hampton said. “You could see how important this was to him. It’s something I’ll always remember.”
But there was one last touch.
Waffle House manager Cedric Hampton helps one of his employees, Timothy Harrison, put on his cap and gown. Harrison showed up to work on the day of his high school graduation ceremony, but his Waffle House co-workers worked together to make sure he made it to the ceremony. (Photo: Cedric Hampton)
Hampton helped Harrison put on his green and gold cap and gown. It reminded Hampton of when his own father helped him with his ties when he was growing up.
“I felt like a king putting on his crown,” Harrison said.
Harrison called the graduation ceremony that afternoon life-changing.
“It was a next step,” he said. “It was moving to the future.”
While Harrison’s Waffle House co-workers weren’t allowed to attend due to limited seating, they waited in the parking lot outside to congratulate him. They had a mini-photo shoot with Harrison to celebrate his accomplishment.
Timothy Harrison poses in his cap and gown with his Waffle House manager, Cedric Hampton. Harrison made it to his graduation ceremony with the help of his Waffle House co-workers (Photo: Cedric Hampton)
After only working at the Waffle House for a little over a month, Harrison now calls his co-workers his “work family.” He sees Hampton as an older brother and mentor.
“It’s one big family,” Hampton said. “We’ll get mad at each other and fuss at each other, but at the end of the day, we all got each other’s back.”
Hampton and the Waffle House employees didn’t realize at the time that their family would bring another exciting opportunity to Harrison. When faculty members of Lawson State Community College in Birmingham heard about their story, they offered Harrison a full scholarship.
At the time, Harrison wasn’t planning on immediately going to college for financial reasons. Instead, he hoped to join the Army and go to college afterward.
Now, Harrison plans to study business and finance at Lawson State before one day starting his own business.
In June, Harrison toured Lawson State’s campus with Hampton.
“I could really see myself being there,” Harrison said.
Hampton said he never expected their story to reach so many people across the country. To them, “This is just who we are and what we do,” he said.
“I hope it makes people realize that one simple act of kindness can change someone’s trajectory in life,” he added. “It can open new doors for someone who may not fully know what they’re next steps are.”
Contact News NOW Reporter Christine Fernando at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.
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