Close Video
skip to main content

Get to Know the 10th President

Q: You grew up in Denver as the son of Mexican immigrants. What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

A: The challenges that my sisters and I faced are not at all different from those facing the youth of immigrants today. One challenge was resources. We had everything we needed but very little of what we wanted. We had a bowl of rice, beans and tortillas. But we didn’t have meat every day. Fortunately, my parents were extremely entrepreneurial. My father had multiple jobs. He taught me to be a locksmith, how to fix a boiler system, how to do plumbing. I’d say, "Dad, I want to go out to dinner with friends.” He’d say, “We need to build a shed. You want to do that? You can earn $20.” That taught me the value of hard work and resources.

Q: Describe an experience from your youth that shaped the course of your life.

A: When I was in middle school, I received a Rotary Club scholarship. It paid $60 a month, at the time it felt like a lot of money for making good grades. The scholarship brought me a mentor. Dr. Jim Woodward was a pediatrician, a mentor I needed. He took me to baseball games and showed me how to navigate that juncture of my life. I reapplied for the scholarship in high school and got it. Dr. Woodward showed me how to fill out a FAFSA and how to prepare for the next stage of my life.

Q:  What do you consider your proudest achievement?

A: The countless notes of appreciation from current and former students: ‘Dr. Chávez, I am able to wear a tie at work and have the office I always wished for and that’s because of you.’ ‘Dr. Chávez, you will never know how your words of wisdom got me through that critical part of life.’

I tell students that never do I expect any appreciation or ‘thank you.’ Instead I tell them that the way they can show me their gratitude is by walking across that graduation stage, not once, but multiple times. 

Q: How did you meet your wife, Naomi?

A: Naomi and I grew up in the same neighborhood in Denver and knew each other as kids. Her parents and my parents are from Mexico. We crossed paths again over 20 years ago. The day after my father died, I came home and saw Naomi in the living room, giving her condolences to my younger sister and mom. It was one of those moments. One door closes, another one opens. I also gained a new mentor, my father-in-law. He came from Mexico to the United States for one reason: to purchase a bicycle. He bought that bicycle many years later and it now hangs in the garage as a reminder.

Q: What do you enjoy doing for recreation?

A: Naomi and I love to cook, love to eat and have excellent conversations with friends and family over food. I also love to read. About 25 to 30 percent of what I read is in Spanish to stimulate my brain. I often go for bike rides. And I appreciate a good jog in the park or on some busy street or dirt trail.