His passion for education came from his teachers in Florida, particularly his elementary school teacher Marina Esteva, a Cuban immigrant.
To be eligible for a Rhodes Scholarship, candidates have to be more than just smart. Candidates have to show they are leaders who care about making a difference in the world. Candidates must also prove they care about global challenges, are committed to the service of others, and have an outstanding character. Winning a Rhodes Scholarship—two years of tuition-free education at the University of Oxford in England, plus an annual stipend—isn’t easy. But, Santiago Potes, a Colombian-born Floridian, did it. He won, and now he’s headed to England.
Potes knows all too well what it means to persevere no matter what. As a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Potes’ story of excellence in education was taken all the way to the US Supreme Court last year. He was one of the DACA recipients showcased in a brief filed with the Supreme Court to preserve the DACA program. Potes is now the first Latino DACA recipient to win a Rhodes Scholarship.
“I feel as though I have received a gift of debt that will require a lifetime of assiduity to repay,” Potes said to Columbia University, his alma mater. “I am silent in gratitude and reflection, and I look forward to moving to Oxford next year.”
Several notable Latinos congratulated Potes on social media, including Rep. Syliva García (D-Texas), who tweeted, “Some great news! Big congratulations to Santiago Potes on becoming the first Latino DACA recipient to be awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. ¡Que orgullo para nuestra comunidad!”
Former presidential candidate Julián Castro also tweeted a celebratory message, saying, “Congratulations to Santiago Potes on this achievement. Dreamers like Santiago are an essential part of our nation and will continue to power our success in the years ahead.”
Potes came to the US as a refugee from Colombia when he was 4 years old, and his family settled in Miami. In a 2017 essay, Potes said that his family fled Colombia after the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) killed his grandparents. His passion for education came from his teachers in Florida, particularly his elementary school teacher Marina Esteva, a Cuban immigrant.
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“My parents didn’t go to college,” Potes said on CNN. “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.”
Potes, an accomplished violinist and fluent in nine languages, will continue his studies on Traditional East Asia at the University of Oxford.