1st Latino DACA Student to Become Rhodes Scholar Thanks Teacher Who Helped Him in Elementary School

Columbia University

Santiago Potes immigrated to Miami, Florida from Colombia when he was four years old and on Saturday was named by the Rhodes Trust that the 2020 graduate of Columbia University in New York, would be one of the 2021 Rhodes Scholars.

A student who moved the United States as a child has gone on to become the first Latino DACA recipient to become a Rhodes scholar. Santiago Potes immigrated to Miami, Florida from Colombia when he was four years old. On Saturday, the Rhodes Trust announced the 2020 graduate of Columbia University in New York would be one of the 2021 Rhodes Scholars.

In their announcement, the Rhodes Trust wrote, "Santiago has been a teaching or research assistant for leading professors in physics, philosophy, social psychology and neuroscience, and won numerous college prizes for leadership as well as academic performance. He is widely published on legal issues relating to DACA status, was one of the DACA recipients featured in a brief filed with the Supreme Court to preserve DACA."

Potes was ecstatic when he heard the news, and immediately thanked an elementary school teacher for helping him get where he is.

"She was one of the biggest blessings that I've had in my entire life so far," Potes told CNN of Marina Esteva. "My parents didn't go to college. My parents had me when they were 16 years old. So, she really became kind of like my first mother figure actually. She went out of her way to teach me a rigorous education."

Twice a week, starting in second grade and continuing through fifth grade, Esteva helped Potes as he learned not just a new language, but adapt to American culture.

"He is so complete. He's a well-rounded human being," Esteva told CNN. "With the highest moral caliber, with a sense of justice, with a sense of what is excellence, and willing to sacrifice for excellence, not for show, but for excellence itself."

Esteva is a Cuban refugee and immigrant to the United States herself.

"I planted a seed in fertile soil. You took care of a plant,” she said to Potes. “You are the one who made it possible."

Potes will study contemporary East Asia and international politics at Oxford University with an eye toward working in national security in the United States. His program will begin in October 2021, CNN reported.