"These kids mean the world to me," Mr. John said. "I come here and try to clean their school and I try to do it right because I know germs and disease is out there."
A beloved custodian received a sendoff fit for a king when students and staff at the school he'd been working for threw him a surprise farewell party. All 685 kids at Sand Hill Elementary School in Carrollton, Georgia, lined the corridors cheering and chanting the name of John Lockett, aka Mr. John, on the 83-year-old's last day on the job. "It really was a surprise to me," he told CNN about the unexpected tribute. "Tears came rolling down my face. I didn't know if I'd be able to walk down the hall."
Although custodians retire all the time, Mr. John's retirement in May 2019 was an emotional event for everyone at the school. "He's at work every day no matter how bad he feels with a smile on his face," Principal Carla Meigs told 11Alive, adding that students considered Mr. John a positive role model with a warm heart. "Almost the grandfather at school," said Meigs. "The kids like to give them hugs." After previously having a career in construction, Mr. John worked for the Carroll County School System for a total of 12 years. "These kids mean the world to me," Mr. John said. "I come here and try to clean their school and I try to do it right because I know germs and disease is out there."
On the day of his celebration, the school asked Mr. John to come in a little early as faculty and students wanted to make sure that there would be enough time to fully recognize his service before the school day ended. Speaking to Good Morning America, Meigs revealed that the children gave him a crown, a cape, and informed him it was "Mr. John Day." As he walked down the hallway where students and staffers were lined up, he was handed an empty basket in which the children placed notes, pictures, and gift cards.
"He was so surprised that he just cried with the kids," said Meigs. "It was so sweet. He is very humble, hardworking, just dedicated to the job. He is as good as they come. It was the perfect day to celebrate him and make it about him." She revealed that since Lockett had been struggling with health problems, she'd tried to get him to retire in December 2018. "He said he wanted to try to wait and go out with the kids at the end of the school year," Meigs added.
"Oh shucks, I love the kids so much," said Mr. John. "There's so much I didn't do in my younger days. I had to find a way to make my life mean something. I made it my business to be a good steward. I want to make the kids the heroes. The school is definitely a family to me. I love every one of those teachers." His wife of 25 years, Annie Lockett, was also present at the "King for a Day" farewell party as she'd been in on the surprise. "I knew he was gonna cry," she said.
"This school means so much to me," Mr. John said. "I really love my job, it is for the kids." He added that he was looking forward to spending more time with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren during his time off. The teachers and the students at Sand Hill Elementary School said that they just wanted to make sure Mr. John knows how much he really means to all of them before he bid them adieu.