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 school age. In her biography on Don Pedro, historian Marisa Rosado states that he entered school at the age of 12 and at the insistence of his friends. An account by Ruth Reynolds provides a slightly different perspective.
According to Reynolds, 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. In this story, it was at that point that Don Pedro told his aunt Rosa that he wanted to go, to which she replied, “change your clothes.”
Rosado points to a school in Ponce headed by a woman named Doña Rosa Percy as where Don Pedro first began his studies. However long he stayed there, he ultimately found himself at the McKinley Agricultural School, where instruction was led by a single North American teacher named Mr. Cooper. Don Pedro was remembered as being a good student, taking a lot of notes in class, and studying at night using an oil lamp. He was also remembered for providing support to other students as needed.
Don Pedro completed the first eight grades in the four years between 1905 and 1909. 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.
Building A Reputation At Ponce High School
Academically, the coursework at Ponce High School focused on the general subjects we are familiar with today. On his cumulative transcript, Don Pedro was documented as having taken 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 his grades were in the 90s.
At Ponce High School, Don Pedro’s opportunity to further his education was coupled with opportunities to gain recognition outside of his school. He set himself apart as a captivating public speaker and debater, one time serving as the school’s debate team captain for a contest held in English. In 1910 he was chosen to represent his school in a notable public speaking contest in Mayagüez. The contest was presided over by none other than José De Diego, a statesman, journalist, poet, and an important Puerto Rican historical figure that became known as the “father of the Puerto Rican independence movement.” Not only did Don Pedro win the contest, but De Diego personally awarded him the prize and was so impressed that he later played a role in securing Don Pedro a scholarship to attend college.
While known for having a great sense of humor, Don Pedro’s greatest reputation was as an intellectual, a skilled speaker, and a student leader. Dr. José Padín, who was a local school superintendent and then 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 developing as a writer during 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 graduated 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. What is without question is that the young ‘prodigy’ made a strong reputation for himself.
The impression Don Pedro made on José De Diego worked to his favor in July 1912 when De Diego, at the time the president of the Puerto Rico House of Delegates, quickly approved a recommendation sent to him by the secretary of the Municipal Council of Ponce to grant Don Pedro a scholarship to attend college. Becoming more than a recommendation, Don Pedro 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 received this scholarship. According to the account given by Ruth Reynolds, it was Gerrish, as an alumnus of the University of Vermont, who also helped to fill out most of the paperwork that resulted in Don Pedro being admitted as a student there for September 1912.
- 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).