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His grandfather cleaned Stanford labs. Now he’s pursuing his doctorate here.

In the Spotlight: Daniel José Navarrete is living his dream of becoming a scientist in the same Stanford labs where his grandfather worked as a janitor.

Daniel José Navarrete, 22, is named after his 94-year-old grandfather, José Prado, the first in the family to migrate from a small town in Mexico to the United States. In the 1950s, his grandfather settled in Redwood City not far from Stanford. As a boy, Daniel Navarrete grew up listening to his grandfather's stories about working as a janitor cleaning the labs of the scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Now, decades later, Daniel is working in the same Stanford labs that his grandfather used to clean. He's a PhD student, studying to become a scientist like those his grandfather admired so much.

Daniel told me about working hard to realize his own dreams, and about making his family proud.

Tell me about your grandfather.

They call him Don José because he's such a great guy and is admired for his generosity. Everybody knows him. He traveled to the U.S. to find work when he was in his early 30s, and one of his jobs was working in the labs at Stanford.

He likes to tell the story of how he went into a radioactive room by mistake because he couldn't read the warnings written in English, and he had to get an emergency wash. Eventually, he moved back to Mexico, where he still lives and works in the same small town raising cattle and crops. He's always been such a hard worker. Nothing will stop him, not even at 94.

José Prado -- known as Don José -- the 94-year-old grandfather of Daniel José Navarrete

Where did you grow up?

I was born near Redwood City and lived there for the first few years of my life, then my family moved to the small town of Newman, in the Central Valley. My dad worked in construction. Both my parents are from Aguililla, Michoacán like my grandfather, but they met in Redwood City.

Was education important in your family?

My grandfather always wanted to be more educated. He didn't have access to much more education than middle school in rural Mexico, so he wanted his kids and his grandkids to get an education. My parents both earned high school educations, but also wished they had the means to go further. It was very important that their kids go to college. They always told me, 'You're so smart. You have to take advantage of getting an education. You're very fortunate to be a U.S. citizen.'

Who was your role model growing up?

My older brother Francisco was one of my role models, for sure. He helped me with school when we were little, and he was the first in the family to go to college. I wanted to be like him. We decided we had to get educations, for ourselves, but also for the family. No one in our community really attended top universities. He encouraged me to set my goals high. My brother went to UCLA.

How did you decide to be a scientist?

In middle school, I really liked science classes. The big immigrant narrative, though, was for your children to become doctors or lawyers or engineers. Since I didn't know what a scientist was, I said I want to be a doctor. During my high school summer of 2014, I participated in the Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program (SIMR). That experience is what made me decide to pursue a career in science.

How did you achieve your goal of coming to Stanford?

I worked hard to stand out in high school and get into programs like SIMR to get into a top university. I earned a scholarship to Princeton University.

That first year, I wanted to drop out. But then I found amazing mentors, and after the first two years of horrible grades, I caught up to all my peers and even graduated with honors. I received offers from several great graduate schools, but I chose Stanford. I'm studying infectious diseases, and I plan to become a scientist, whether as a professor or in some other capacity.

Of course, my grandfather is super proud. I'm living our dream.

Photo of Daniel José Navarrete by Tracie White. Photo of José Prado courtesy of Daniel José Navarrete.

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