WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — A 17-year-old Washington Heights high school student who President Barack Obama praised in a speech earlier this month was invited to get a front-row seat at Tuesday's State of the Union Address.
Estiven Rodriguez, a senior at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, earned Obama's praise for becoming one of the top students at his school after immigrating to the United States from the Dominican Republic when he was nine years old without be able to speak English.
"Today, with the support of a tightly knit school community, he’s one of the top students in his senior class," Obama said during the Jan. 16 College Opportunity Summit in Washington D.C. "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."
Rodriguez had no idea the praise was coming.
"We didn't know until that exact moment," the student told DNAinfo New York. "It was a complete shock. It was the best thing ever in my life."
Rodriguez will be attending Dickinson College in the fall on a Posse Foundation Scholarship.
One of his Washington Heights teachers also praised the first-generation college student.
"At only 16, 17 years old, he, in many ways, embodies the spirit of a life-long learner," Estiven's 11th grade United States history teacher Erick Espin said.
"He is a model student."