New York City honored one of its most accomplished residents this week.
Mayor Bill de Blasio declared April 16 “Jin Park Day” in honor of Harvard student Jin Park, the first undocumented Rhodes scholar in the accolade’s history.
Park, a longtime New York City resident, said the occasion “literally had me and my mom in tears for the past 3 hours.”
“I’m so grateful to call this place home. It’s the only home I’ll ever know,” the 22-year-old tweeted.
The highly selective Rhodes scholarship recognizes 32 students from the U.S. for their academic excellence and leadership every year. Park applied for the scholarship the first year it was available to beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an Obama-era program allowing young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to remain in the country.
Park attended a ceremony at the mayor’s residence, Gracie Mansion, where he spoke about his love for the U.S. He also gave a shoutout to Fahad, a man who works at his beloved bodega and makes him “feel home.”
“I’m from the sovereign nation of Queens, New York,” the Rhodes scholar joked in his speech.
“For a lot of us, I’d like to think that this place, America, is my home ― not because I’m smart or not because I’m a Rhodes scholar but because of people like Fahad,” Park said. “People like Fahad call me a member of the community. He calls me a New Yorker, and it doesn’t matter ― he’s gonna give me the bacon, egg and cheese exactly the way I like it, regardless of if I’m a Rhodes scholar or not.”
Park concluded: “It’s really important to keep the focus on the fact that this place is our home and it doesn’t really matter what comes after. This is where we belong.”
Park, who is from Flushing, Queens, moved from South Korea to the U.S. when he was 7 years old. His father took up jobs in Korean restaurants while his mother worked in nail salons.
“So if you’ve ever eaten at a Korean restaurant or received a mani-pedi in New York City, congratulations. Like it or not, you may have partially subsidized the education of what Fox News would call an illegal alien,” Park quipped while speaking in front of Harvard’s class of 2018.
While in school, the molecular and cellular biology major has also been volunteering for his nonprofit organization Higher Dreams, which provides resources to undocumented students looking to go to college, and the Harvard Phillips Brooks House Association Chinatown Citizenship program, which offers naturalization assistance in Boston.
He’s also the managing editor of The Harvard Undergraduate Research Journal and a chapter leader of Define American, a nonprofit media and culture organization launched by undocumented journalist Jose Antonio Vargas that aims to challenge the media’s depiction of immigrants. In February, Park attended the State Of The Union as the guest of Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.).