In the midst of a global pandemic, a Massachusetts bus driver earned his associate's degree in just one year, with multiple honors. And, he credits the students he drove to and from school every day as his inspiration.
Clayton Ward knows a bit about school buses; while growing up in Tennessee, his family owned a school bus company. MassBay Community College says Ward later moved to Massachusetts and eventually began driving a school bus for the city of Framingham.
Ward told the school that he didn't realize it at first, but the students he drove to and from school would ultimately be the inspiration for him to return to the classroom.
“I really enjoy working with kids, especially the high school students, and during the bus routes, we would chat about their classes. As a history buff, I would share lessons that I learned in school and we talked a lot about academics. After several of these discussions, some of the students would tell me they wanted me to be their teacher," Ward told the school.
I think they only said that because I was a different person than their regular teachers, educating them in a different way to pique their interest. But, however small that mention was from those kids… it stuck with me and gave me the motivation to complete a goal I had started years ago."
After high school, Ward attended a college in Virginia, but at the time the demands of work and school were too much, and he left after a few semesters. But his interest in earning his degree never went away.
In May 2019, Ward enrolled in MassBay Community College with the goal of earning his degree, transferring to a four-year institution, and someday teaching history to high school students.
He worked full-time driving the school bus while also working at being a full-time student. Every semester he earned a spot on the Dean's List and was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society.
“It wasn’t always easy. I would drive my route in the morning and afternoon, take a class in between shifts, and take night classes and classes online to complete my degree requirements. I would think of those students and all the years I wanted to make this happen, and it helped me focus my energy," Ward said.
“Many years ago, I heard a quote from my former middle and high school band teacher, but it has stuck with me and has helped me stay the course and get to where I am now. My teacher said, ‘Discipline is not doing what you are supposed to be doing when everyone is watching. Discipline is doing what you are supposed to be doing when nobody is watching.’ This quote has allowed me to be successful at MassBay.”
Ward completed his associate's degree in just one year and will transfer to Framingham State University in the fall to earn his bachelor's degree in history, with a minor in secondary education.
The school says Ward earned the following honors upon graduation: Highest Honors, the All-College Award for his 4.0 GPA, the All-Divisional Award for having the highest GPA in the Humanities and Social Sciences Division, and for having the highest GPA in the Liberal Arts program.