As Nikki Rowe High School graduating seniors filed into the McAllen Convention Center on Friday, McAllen ISD bus driver David Gomez walked out the door with a group of students. They headed to a waiting school bus parked on the curb.
“They don’t want to see that bus anymore,” Gomez joked. “They want to see another bus that says UT-Austin.”
Seniors of bus route 18 donned green caps and gowns while posing for pictures in front of the yellow vehicle with their now-former driver. Gomez garnered attention on social media after images of congratulations cards, each stuffed with $20, went viral. Their story was featured on both KRGV-TV and KGBT-TV this week.
“I feel very good, but I feel more proud about them,” said Gomez of the new notoriety. “They finished one goal today, and moved to another goal.”
Gomez said the gesture wasn’t meant for attention but as “a little push” to let them know he has their backs.
“I do it because I love those kids,” said Gomez. “I wanted to give it to them from my heart because they’re special kids to me.”
Laetia Cantu, a graduating senior, said she couldn’t help but get emotional from Gomez’s gift.
“It touched my heart,” she said. “Of course I cried about it. He’s been a very special person for me since my freshman year.”
For the last four years, Gomez has offered McAllen students words of encouragement and concern, according to multiple bus riders. If a rider is happy, sad or tired, Gomez paid attention and was a cheerleader reminding kids to do their best.
“We get off the bus and he always tells us, ‘you got this,’” Cantu said. “When we’re sad he’ll tell us, ‘tomorrow’s a new day.’”
Graduating senior Alondra Hernandez remembers Gomez making her feel welcomed when she started riding her sophomore year.
“He really does deserve it because this isn’t his first act of kindness,” said graduating senior Alondra Viramontes of the small gestures throughout the year. “He’s like a grandpa to us.”
Gomez has a theory why his story was popular on social media.
“We’re tired of hearing a lot of bad news,” he said. “Maybe this is nothing big, but it’s something good for the students.”
The bus driver said his parents divorced when he was young, but he was lucky to have a stable network of support. He knows some of his riders might not be so fortunate.
“The main point is that they aren’t alone,” said Gomez of his positive environment he tries to instill on his bus. “They’re a person and they count in this world. When they grow up, they fly anyway, like today.”
And his compassion seems to be contagious with his riders.
Viramontes said since her time with Gomez, she’s more likely “to ask people about their morning and to always be nice to everyone, even though you see them for five minutes … (because) you don’t know what they go through at home.”
And this is the sentiment Gomez hopes will spread beyond the bus.
“The most valuable part of this story that went viral … (is) to be better to other people, not only with your close family (but) any people you see on the street or your neighbors,” he said. “We need to be better.
“We need to be more humane to other people.”