DeKalb custodian turned teacher, surprised by ‘Jungle Cruise’ stars with trip to Disneyland

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Tylan Bailey always wanted to be a teacher. It took him more than 20 years to make that dream become a reality.

Bailey had been working as the head custodian of Hightower Elementary School in DeKalb County for 23 years before registering for college in 2017 at the age of 39.

After four years of balancing his full-time job as a custodian with being a father of four and college student, Bailey earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Georgia State University.

“I feel blessed to have a community, a family of people who really supported me throughout this journey,” Bailey told Good Morning America. “It’s been tough.”

Bailey’s wife, Areka Bailey, said his journey to become a college graduate and teacher has also provided motivation to his family.

“He’s told me stories about cousins calling him saying, ‘I heard about your story, man, I’m proud of you. You’re my motivation. Now I know that I can do it too. Nothing is holding me back,’” she said.

Because of his inspiring journey, GMA decided to surprise Bailey, who will start this fall as a physical education teacher at Briar Vista Elementary School in Atlanta.


During Monday morning’s show, “Jungle Cruise” stars Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson surprised Bailey with an invitation to the California premiere of their new movie, as well as roundtrip airfare to California for him and his family, plus hotel rooms and park passes at Disneyland.

“What a journey and how inspiring your story is,” said Johnson. “We’re proud of you.”

Added Blunt, “You just keep shining your light. You’re amazing.”

“I’m kind of speechless,” said Bailey, who explained that he reached his goal of becoming a teacher by following the motto, “Meet your blessings halfway.”

“Your blessings will come to you if you go for it,” he said. “Sometimes we want blessings to come to us. Just meet them halfway and you’ll get there.”

Bailey was also surprised with an at-home Echelon bike and treadmill, as well a $15,000 donation from Echelon to his new school.

Good Morning America contributed to this article.