Early Success In School

Choosing To Attend School

Attending school at the time that Don Pedro was born apparently was not a given for him — under his aunt Rosa’s care, he was not immediately enrolled in school when he was of age. In her monumental biographical book on Don Pedro, historian Marisa Rosado states that he first entered school at the age of 12 and at the insistence of his friends.

An account by Ruth Reynolds, a one-time close friend of Don Pedro, provides a slightly different perspective. According to her, one day Don Pedro took notice of a group of kids looking “all cleaned up” in their attire and asked them where they were going. When they responded that they were going to school they also inquired about his going to school. It was at that point that Don Pedro told his aunt Rosa that he wanted to go, to which she replied,”change your clothes.”

In her biography, Marisa Rosado points to a school in Ponce headed by a Doña Rosa Percy as the one where Don Pedro first began his studies. However long he stayed there, he ultimately found himself at the McKinley Agricultural School, now the Escuela Ramón Marín, where instruction was led by a single North American teacher by the name Mr. Cooper. Don Pedro was remembered to be a good student, taking a lot of notes in class, studying at night using an oil lamp, and providing a lot of support to other students as needed.

Building A Reputation At Ponce High School

Based on the age he first entered school and the year he graduated to Ponce High School, Don Pedro completed the first eight grades in the four years between 1905 and 1909. Clearly an exceptional student committed to learning, Don Pedro was documented in the 1910 Census as being able to speak English, a skill probably developed by his North American teacher Mr. Cooper. At Ponce High School, Don Pedro’s opportunity to further his education would be coupled with opportunities to gain recognition outside of his school as a gifted individual, if not an outright genius.

Academically, the coursework at Ponce High School focused on the general subjects. On his cumulative transcript, Don Pedro was documented as taking four years of English, three years of Latin, two years of History, Spanish, and French, and one year of Algebra, Physics, Geometry, and Zoology. Besides an 88 received in the third quarter of his first year in French, all of his grades were in the 90s.

During this time Don Pedro also set himself apart as a captivating public speaker and debater, one time serving as the school’s debate team captain for a public speaking contest held in English. In 1910 he was chosen to represent his school in a notable public speaking contest in Mayagüez. Not only did he win the contest, but it was presided over by none other than José De Diego, an important historical figure known as a statesman, journalist, poet, and “father of the Puerto Rican independence movement.” De Diego personally awarded Don Pedro the prize and would later play a role in providing him a grant to attend college.

While also known for having a great sense of humor, Don Pedro’s greatest reputation was as an intellectual, skilled speaker, and student leader. Dr. José Padín, who was both a local school superintendent and public schools commissioner in the years Don Pedro was in high school, said in a 1950 interview with the Boston Globe that he was a “child prodigy” and “oratorical spellbinder.” Don Pedro was also, however, developing as an impressive writer by this time. Following the death of a classmate named Mercedes Castaing in 1911, he was published in the Puerto Rico Eagle newspaper. The article, written in English at 18 years old, is an eloquent, heartfelt, and poetic display of emotion, spiritual contemplation, and reverence for the dead.

Graduating With Honors

Don Pedro would graduate from Ponce High School in 1912 with distinguished honors. Some accounts say that Don Pedro, with a cumulative average of 95.93, graduated as the valedictorian of his class, while another account places him as the salutatorian. Undeniably, the young ‘prodigy’ made a strong reputation for himself.

In July 1912 the impression Don Pedro made on José De Diego would work in his favor when De Diego, at the time the President of the Puerto Rico House of Delegates, quickly approved a recommendation by the Secretary of the Municipal Council of Ponce to grant Don Pedro a scholarship to attend college. He eventually did receive this scholarship.

In August 1912 he was considered for another scholarship by the Masonic Lodge “Aurora” No. 7 of Ponce. This consideration was recommended by E. N. Gerrish, the Principal of Ponce High School, and Charles H. Terry, the Superintendent of Schools in Ponce. Don Pedro also went on to receive this scholarship. According to the account given by Ruth Reynolds, it was Gerrish, being an alumni of the University of Vermont, who also helped to fill out most of the paperwork that would result in Don Pedro being admitted as a student there in September 1912.


References:

  • Historical Journals and Periodicals, Center for Puerto Rican Studies Library and Archives (Hunter College, CUNY).
  • Pedro Albizu Campos: Las Llamas de la Aurora- Acercamiento a su Biografía, by Marisa Rosado (Ediciones Puerto, 2008).
  • The Ruth M. Reynolds Papers, Center for Puerto Rican Studies Library and Archives (Hunter College, CUNY).

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