Studies In New England

Academics In The University Of Vermont And Harvard

When he entered the University of Vermont in 1912 for its Fall semester, Don Pedro chose to major in agricultural engineering. Becoming known among students for wearing a black fedora hat, Don Pedro would also become known among teachers and faculty for his considerable intelligence. This recognition among teachers and faculty would result in his being recommended and pushed to attend Harvard University, which he did starting the following Fall semester of 1913. Don Pedro’s entrance into Harvard marked the first time a Puerto Rican attended that university.

At Harvard his interest in engineering would continue, though Don Pedro would then study chemical engineering. In addition to courses on chemistry, he would also take classes on government, economics, and languages. With the exception of his second year, during which he suffered from an illness that affected his eyes and ability to study for several weeks, Don Pedro fared well in his coursework. Resilient and consistent with his academic work, in June 1916 he would graduate with a degree in chemical engineering in addition to a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Letters. In good standing as a student, Don Pedro would be accepted into and begin classes at Harvard Law School that following September of 1916.

By this time, Don Pedro had made a name for himself on campus as a student leader. Academically, his decision to now study law would be significant in Don Pedro’s development. As he studied law from several perspectives, including from the perspective of international law, he would begin to formulate his ideology with regard to the situation of Puerto Rico. Don Pedro would eventually complete all course requirements and earn his Doctor of Law degree, at the time called a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.). Remarkably, he also had a command of eight languages: Spanish, English, Portuguese, French, Italian, German, Latin, and Greek.

Participating In Organizations And Activism

Beyond his academic accomplishments, Don Pedro was an activist and member of several student and other organizations while at Harvard, many times serving in leadership positions. The list of organizations he was a part of include: the American Chemical Society, the Boylston Chemical Club, the Cosmopolitan Club, the International Polity Club, the League to Enforce Peace, the Speakers Club, and the St. Paul’s Catholic Club. In addition, Don Pedro is said to have founded the Harvard chapter of the Knights of Columbus, an organization of the Catholic Church.

Don Pedro began his public activism as soon as he arrived at the University of Vermont — during his one year there he spoke on the education of women in Latin America in a student forum and, on another occasion, against U.S. intervention in Mexico in a public discussion. Other topics he is known to have given lectures on at Harvard were the situation in Puerto Rico at the College Street Club, the assimilation of immigrants at the American Society of Colonial Families, the Monroe Doctrine at the Socialist Club of Boston, and the situation of the black race in Latin America at the Public Opinion Club.

Recognized and respected by his peers as an intelligent student leader and engaging speaker, Don Pedro was elected President for both the Cosmopolitan Club and League to Enforce Peace. For most of his Harvard years Don Pedro was selected to welcome foreign students and visitors from other countries, sometimes serving as a translator. When the Indian poet and patriot Rabindranath Tagore visited Harvard, Don Pedro was selected by his law student peers to lead the reception ceremony. Later, when the Irish patriot Éamon de Valera visited Harvard for a conference, Don Pedro was selected to provide commentary following his speech.

Financial Struggles And Racial Discrimination

In his article on Don Pedro’s university studies, scholar Anthony De Jesús highlights the financial situation he found himself in. Acknowledging that while he did receive a Price Greenleaf scholarship that is awarded to low-income students, Don Pedro still had to cover a significant amount of tuition and living expenses on his own. Thus, on top of all the time and energy devoted to his studies and as a leader and activist in school and local organizations, Don Pedro also had to work. He tutored classmates in Spanish, French, and Chemistry; he taught Spanish as a professor at two local schools; he wrote for the Christian Science Monitor and two Puerto Rican newspapers; and, at one point, due an inability to find anything else, he cut grass.

Besides financial struggles, Don Pedro also faced racial discrimination, most notably, as highlighted in the article by De Jesús, by his own teachers. One teacher commented that his manner was pleasant and his coursework noteworthy, “especially when considering that he is a Porto Rican.” Another teacher, out of prejudice to him, prevented Don Pedro from taking the final exams for two required law courses. Returning to Puerto Rico in 1921, Don Pedro had to correspond with the university and obtain permission to have the exams administered in Puerto Rico.

Taking the exams in June 1922, he was awarded his diploma in the beginning of 1923 and was finally sworn in as an official lawyer in the beginning of 1924. Anthony De Jesús draws a parallel with Puerto Rican and Latino/a students of today by highlighting Don Pedro’s academic and personal challenges with his health, financial struggles, and subjection to racial discrimination. De Jesús, as have others before him, also points out the clear presence of key influences that would later find expression in Don Pedro’s leadership of Puerto Rico’s independence movement.


References:

  • Albizu Campos y la Independencia de Puerto Rico, by Laura de Albizu Campos (Publicaciones Puertorriqueñas, 2007).
  • El Derecho En Pedro Albizu Campos: La Formación Jurídica, by Carmelo Delgado Cintrón in La Nación Puertorriqueña: Ensayos En Torno A Pedro Albizu Campos (Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1997).
  • I have endeavored to seize the beautiful opportunity for learning offered here: Pedro Albizu Campos at Harvard a century ago, by Anthony De Jesús (Latino Studies, 2011).
  • Pedro Albizu Campos: Las Llamas de la Aurora- Acercamiento a su Biografía, by Marisa Rosado (Ediciones Puerto, 2008).

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