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Improbable journey: Man nominated for teacher of the year never graduated high school

HOLLAND, Mich. -- Brian Taylor was once a troubled student. Now he is now up for Michigan's Teacher Of the Year.

Taylor has been teaching history and government at West Ottawa High School for 14 years. He says you don't have to have life figured out at an early age; there are always multiple paths to the same destination.

"He's one of the most magnetic, charismatic teachers we have here," said Jason Reinecke, West Ottawa High School's principal. "We feel like Brian is absolutely an asset here, and I think a lot of it is due to his non-traditional pathway to becoming a teacher."

Taylor is invested in his student's lives and that's why he hasn't missed a single graduation at West Ottawa High in 17 years.

Ironic, because Taylor never made it to his graduation. "I still don’t have a high school diploma or GED," he said. "After two years of high school, I had a GPA of 1.54.”

Taylor dropped out of his Oregon high school not one or two, but three times.

"I borrowed gas money from friends and moved to California and decided I'd start over whenever I ran out of gas and money," Taylor remembers. "Basically, my bedroom was in the back seat of my car."

He ended up broke and homeless.

"I borrowed a sleeping bag from my grandma,” he continues. “I slept on the beach and forgot all about high tide, so the water came up and woke me up, got me all wet, and it took about a week for it to dry.”

Thirsty for an opportunity, he started working in a factory. As time passed, he thought maybe it was time to try school again.

With open admissions at Santa Barbara City College, there was no need for a high school diploma. He took an entrance exam and got in.

After a year and a half, he transferred to a four-year university in New York, majored in political science, philosophy, politics, and law.

He became a web page developer, and after several more improbable events, a teacher.

"It just sort of happened," Taylor said.

Now, 17 years later, he's teaching his students that a high school diploma isn’t what defines a person, it’s character. The character in this story went on quite the ride, but what's important is he ended teaching at West Ottawa High School.

Taylor speaks of a sense of destiny. "Your life can take a different path, and you can end up in the same spot." Taylor said.

When Taylor retires, he hopes to get an honorary high school diploma and walk across the same stage his students have walked in the past.

Despite his hardships, Taylor encourages all students to try hard in school and graduate.

Students describe Mr. Taylor as funny and caring. "I’ve found my meaning in life, and it's to help other people find theirs," Taylor said.

"My hope is that it's an inspiration to students, that it's not how you start the race but how you finish it.”

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