ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. (KTVU) - A Florida boy who was made fun of, for his DIY t-shirt supporting his favorite college, is now serving as an inspiration for the college itself, as well as others seeking to put an end to bullying.
The child's teacher took to social media last week and explained how one of her students went to her, worried that he couldn't participate in the school's "College Colors Day."
" ... this particular child came to me and told me that he wanted to wear a University of Tennessee shirt, but he didn't have one," Laura Snyder, a teacher at Altamonte Elementary School in Altamonte Springs, wrote on Facebook. "We discussed that he could wear an orange shirt to show his spirit."
In the days leading up to "College Colors Day," the student repeatedly expressed his enthusiasm about participating in the school event. "So when the day finally arrived, he was SO EXCITED to show me his shirt," Snyder said. And she noted how he had even gone the extra mile to pin on his own paper-made UT label.
But the reaction the child got from some of his schoolmates broke the teacher's heart.
"After lunch, he came back to my room, put his head on his desk and was crying," Snyder explained. "Some girls at the lunch table next to his (who didn't even participate in college colors day) had made fun of his sign that he had attached to his shirt. He was DEVASTATED," she wrote.
The fourth grade teacher was upset too.
"I know kids can be cruel, I am aware that it's not the fanciest sign, BUT this kid used the resources he had available to him to participate in a spirit day," Snyder wrote.
So the teacher took it upon herself to celebrate the child, his enthusiasm, determination, and resourcefulness and set out to show him how special he is.
On Facebook, she said she planned on getting the child a University of Tennessee shirt as a gift but also asked if anyone had connections to UT, so she could get the school involved in celebrating the boy.
It didn't take long for the university to get word of the story and the teacher's efforts, and the school responded in a big way.
Out of the hand-drawn design created by the young student, the UT promptly produced shirts that are now being sold and going fast.
On Saturday, the university campus store said its website crashed due to the high demand.
UT also sent out a video message for the child, with its mascot, Smokey, alongside a Tennessee "Volunteer" (Vol) who had words of praise and encouragement for the boy.
"We know that your creativity and determination will get you very far in life," the Vol said. "Volunteers always stand up for the right thing. We always go the extra mile, and we never give up," he added.
The Vols also put action behind their words and went the extra mile themselves, by sending the child and his classmates a huge care packaged chock-full of UT swag, including a jersey, hats, water bottles, bracelets, towels, and pens. There were also touching letters of support for the boy.
"UT really outdid themselves!!" Snyder wrote when the packaged arrived. "I was so excited to surprise my student today!! I'm not even sure I can put into words his reaction. It was so heartwarming."
Snyder expressed her gratitude and said the acts of kindness from the Vols community had a profound effect on all of her students, offering them important lessons that they can take with them beyond the classroom.
"... it made this teacher so proud to see the kids congratulating my student. High fives, hugs, pats on the back could be seen from the kids," Snyder said. "This experience is uniting my class even more than I could have imagined," adding that the outpouring of support beautifully demonstrated "what it's like to come together and be kind."
This story was reported from Oakland, Calif.