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The first Latino Rhodes Scholar on DACA says it's all thanks to his elementary school teacher

Meet Santiago Potes, who believes his academic accomplishment is all the result of his elementary school teacher Marina Esteva.

The first Latino Rhodes Scholar on DACA says it's all thanks to his elementary school teacher
Image Source: HamiltonScholar / Twitter

Santiago Potes is the first Latino DACA recipient of the Rhodes Scholarship, an international postgraduate award for students to study at the University of Oxford. Now, he will pursue a Master of Studies (MSt.) in global and imperial history to analyze the relationship between aesthetics and law in Deng Xiaoping’s China at Oxford. A 2020 graduate of Columbia University in New York, he thanked his elementary school teacher Marina Esteva for helping him become the man he is today, CNN reports. As an undocumented immigrant, education was Potes' means of recognizing his talents and building a better future for himself and his family.


He arrived in the United States from Colombia at the age of four. That is when he joined Esteva's class at Sweetwater Elementary School in Miami, Florida. The teacher said she immediately noticed that he was incredibly intelligent and wanted to nurture him towards success. Potes saw her twice a week in her class for gifted and talented students from second to fifth grade. He believes that his success can be traced back to her classes. He said in an interview with CNN's Poppy Harlow, "She was one of the biggest blessings that I've had in my entire life so far. I wish there were a larger national conversation about how important elementary school teachers specifically are."


Potes is a first-generation college student. Therefore, this scholarship is particularly important for him and young immigrants like him. "My parents didn't go to college," he shared. "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." He remembers one of Esteva's classes quite vividly—on Renaissance men. Taking the lesson to heart, the student became an accomplished violinist and is fluent or near-fluent in nine languages, one of which is Chinese. This, all in addition to his academic success.


However, Esteva believes that her bright student simply took the small lessons she taught and turned them into much bigger accomplishments on his own accord. "He is so complete, he's a well-rounded human being," she stated, "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. I planted a seed in fertile soil. You took care of a plant. You are the one who made it possible." The Rhodes Trust, too, recognized his capabilities. They wrote in an announcement, "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."


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