He Entered the U.S. as an Undocumented Immigrant. Now He’s Teacher of the Year.

A 34-year-old native of Puerto Vallarta who came to the U.S. illegally 18 years ago has been named Teacher of the Year at a Fremont high school, KQED reports.

Julio Navarrete teaches Spanish at American High. He holds a master’s degree in education and a teaching certificate from The National Hispanic University in San Jose. But until six years ago, it was hard for him to hold down a job. His undocumented status had to be hidden. When revealed, it once cost him his position at a charter school.

Things changed after he won political asylum and a work permit several years ago. Today, Navarrete is free to share his story and bask in the glow of his recent recognition for excellence in teaching. But he has never forgotten the struggle he endured to get here.

“Every day I wake up feeling grateful,” Navarrete told KQED. “Just the fact that I'm able to step into a high school classroom and be with my students and teach and be part of this community. That's all I could ever ask for.”

Today, he encourages other undocumented students to get an education and pursue their dreams, no matter the risk.

“I tell them that nobody can take away their education regardless of whether or not in the future they’ll be able to work. Education is our freedom, and we need to educate ourselves. And, when they finish university, maybe things will be different.”