On a Tuesday afternoon in February of 2018, 1st Sgt. Hector Rivera stepped into a Carlos Rosario School classroom for the first time in more than 27 years. The school was different back then —a different name and a different location— but many of the faces remained the same, including that of the teacher who inspired him to come back, Lisa Walker.

“Lisa had a big part in my life due to her professionalism and the magic she has teaching,” he said.

1st Sgt. Rivera was visiting Washington, D.C. from California and decided to stop by the school to thank his former teacher for helping him build the foundation of his English learning. While there, he took the time to give some words of encouragement to her current students.

“I was here like you many years ago,” said 1st Sgt. Rivera to the class. “Nobody knows what you might become later on.”

1st Sgt. Rivera arrived in the U.S. in 1990 as a political asylee from the civil war in El Salvador. Like many others in his situation, arriving to where he is now required many sacrifices. During those first few years, he worked at a nightclub until 2:30am, and at 6:30am was already on the bus to school. All of the sacrifice was worth it, he said, because he was able to get the foundation that he needed to continue on with his education and career in the military.

 

From the time that 1st Sgt. Rivera arrived in the U.S., he wanted to serve the country that had opened its doors to him. He decided early on that he would join the Marine Corps but he needed to jump through many hurdles before that could happen. As soon as he got his green card, he enlisted in the military and has now been serving the country for 17 years.

“Everything started at the school,” he said. “I waited for this moment to come and say thank you.”