President Obama was nearing the end of a speech about college opportunity Thursday when he called attention to a student in the audience, Estiven Rodriguez, a senior at WHEELS High School in Upper Manhattan.
Estiven “could not speak a word of English when he moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic at the age of nine,” Obama said. “Didn’t speak much more English by the time he entered sixth grade.”
But he flourished in the “tightly knit school community” at WHEELS, or Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, the President said. He said Estiven also benefitted from the personal attention of a classroom teaching assistant brought to the school by Blue Engine, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that sent more than 50 recent college graduates to work in five city high schools this year. (Obama also gave a shout out to that group’s founder, Nick Ehrmann.)
Last month, Estiven joined other WHEELS students in their annual march through the streets and to a local post office to mail their college applications. “You would have thought it was the Macy’s parade,” Obama quipped.
“And Estiven just heard back,” the President continued. “This son of a factory worker who didn’t speak much English just six years ago won a competitive scholarship to attend Dickinson College this fall.”
Earlier in his speech about ways to help low-income students attend and graduate from college, Obama highlighted iMentor, a mentoring program that began in a single South Bronx school in 1999 and now plans to operate in more than 20 states over the next five years.
Watch the video above to hear Obama tell Estiven’s story.