Melisa Simon doesn’t remember Mexico, the country where she was born. She hasn’t lived there since she was 3, when her parents smuggled her and her two siblings across the Mexico-Texas border and settled in Dallas.

“From what I can remember, all my life has been here,” Simon, 17, told The Washington Post in a phone interview. “I started school here.”

In two years, she’ll be the youngest teacher in Dallas’ Independent School District. At 19 years old, she’ll be the same age as some of the students — according to the Dallas Morning News, at least 1,430 students in the school district are 19 or older.

Simon graduated from W.W. Samuell High School, part of the Dallas school district, on Thursday, but the ceremony might not feel like a milestone. She has already obtained her associate’s degree through Samuell Early College High School. And, if all goes well, in just another year, she’ll have her bachelor’s degree and teaching degree through the TechTeach program at Texas Tech University. After that, she’ll be put in a classroom for two years — the program partners with school districts around Texas in an effort to place teachers in high-need areas.

Needless to say, Simon’s hard work has paid off in spades. At one point in her life, though, she didn’t think it would matter.

“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do yet,” she told The Post. “I just knew I wanted to work with children.”

But that seemed like a pipe-dream.

“I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to have an actual career,” Simon told the Dallas Morning News, remembering how she felt when she was younger.

Because even though she’s lived in the United States for 14 of her 17 years, Simon is an undocumented immigrant. Through an unfortunate dovetailing of incidents early in her life, she realized what exactly that would mean for her life in terms of finances, career and choice.

When she was 13, disaster struck her family. Her father lost his job in construction and wasn’t able to find another one for months. Her mother didn’t work, and there were three mouths to feed in the house. Finding work isn’t easy for undocumented immigrants, a disheartening fact Simon learned firsthand. She couldn’t get the kind of jobs her friends complained about at school — slinging frozen yogurt at the mall’s food court or folding shirts for display at one of its retail stores.

“It was a really difficult time for us,” Simon said.

Her mother’s friend who runs a fruit stand at the Dallas Farmers Market approached the family with an idea: Simon could come and work at the market and make a little money for the family without having to face the traditional paperwork that generally stood between her and job applications.

“She knew we needed the money, so she said if it helps, if we needed the money, I could work,” Simon recalled.

So she began giving out fruit samples to hungry passersby on the weekends. And, as she would be her entire life, she was soon promoted and took on more duties.

As Zinab Muñoz, the Dallas-area liaison for TechTeach, told the Dallas Morning News, “There’s definitely something there that is unique about her. She’s actually a trailblazer.”

The experience at the market opened Simon up but was even more discouraging in a strange way.

“I used to cut up fruit and sell fruit,” Simon said. “All of the little jobs I had here and there, they gave me experience. I was a really shy person, and I feel like that helped me open up.”

While she enjoyed the work and was pleased to be financially helping her family, she couldn’t shake the idea that her friends had jobs they sought out rather than ones that were given. If she couldn’t find a job now, how would she find one when she was older? What was the point of all this effort in school if in the end, she was forced to work at a farmers market? Sure, she knew she wanted to work with children, but how could she ever pursue such a career?

“The challenges that I face, since I’m not from here, it worried me that I wouldn’t be able to do something with my life that I wanted to,” Simon said. “It hit me when my friends started getting jobs, and it was hard for me to realize” she couldn’t do the same.

Her parents told her to remain focused, that something would change for people like her: children brought into the United States by their parents when they were too young to make any conscious decision.

“I would talk to my parents, who would always encourage me not to give up,” she said. “They had faith that the president would come out with something to help us.”

Maria Perez talks about her struggles as a DACA recipient whose parents are undocumented, and how President Obama's executive action on immigration will improve her family's life. (Ashleigh Joplin and Matthew Bush/The Washington Post)

“It gave me motivation to keep on moving forward,” she added.

That something came in 2012 in the form of DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Undocumented immigrants brought to the United States before turning 16 can potentially receive employment authorization for two years. While it doesn’t pave the way to citizenship, it is a promise not to remove some young undocumented immigrants from the States.

For someone like Simon, it’s a game changer.

“I still remember when they announced it. We were in the living room, and we were all watching the news,” Simon told The Post. “We were all around the television, jumping around.”

Then she paused, before quietly adding, “It really changed my life.”

Simon won’t get much of a break after Thursday’s graduation. Her program begins next month. Still, she’s pleased at her accomplishments, something she says she owes her parents.

“They crossed over the border with three little kids,” she told the Dallas Morning News. “If they had to go through all that to bring me here, I think that I have to give back.”

She also hopes her story will quell some of the stereotypes that plague undocumented immigrants, particularly the idea that they’re lazier than the general population.

“I’m proud that I’m achieving all of this because I can prove people wrong, and I can be an example,” Simon said. “You just have to work hard for it.”