Academics In The University Of Vermont And Harvard
When Don Pedro entered the University of Vermont in 1912 for its fall semester his major was agricultural engineering. Becoming known among students for wearing a black fedora hat, Don Pedro also became known among teachers and faculty for his unmistakable intellect. This recognition among teachers and faculty resulted in his being recommended and pushed to attend Harvard University, which he did starting the following fall semester of 1913. Don Pedro eventually became the first Puerto Rican to graduate from Harvard.
At Harvard Don Pedro’s interest in engineering continued but would now focus on chemical engineering. In addition to coursework related to chemistry, he also took classes on government, economics, and languages. Except for 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 persistent, in June 1916 he graduated with a degree in chemical engineering in addition to a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy and Letters. In good standing as a student, Don Pedro was accepted into Harvard Law School, beginning classes that following September of 1916.
His decision to study law would go on to have a significant impact on his development. Studying law from several perspectives, including international law, he began to further develop his ideology regarding the situation of Puerto Rico. Despite some significant obstacles, Don Pedro eventually completed all course requirements and earned his Doctor of Law degree, at the time called a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.). In a testament to his incredible capacity to learn, he also had a command of eight languages: his native Spanish, English, Portuguese, French, Italian, German, Latin, and Greek. During these years, Don Pedro also gained considerable attention on campus as a student leader.
Participating In Organizations And Activism
Beyond his academic accomplishments, Don Pedro was also an activist and a member of several student and other organizations, many times in a leadership position. Among these organizations are 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. Don Pedro is also credited as a founder of the Harvard chapter of the Knights of Columbus, an organization closely associated with 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 is known to have spoken on the education of women in Latin America in a student forum and, on another occasion in a public discussion, against U.S. intervention in Mexico. At Harvard he is known to have given lectures on 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 conditions of black people 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 first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, 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 again selected to serve as one of the lead hosts.
Financial Struggles And Racial Discrimination
In his article on Don Pedro’s university studies, scholar Anthony De Jesús highlights his financial situation. Acknowledging that while he did receive a Price Greenleaf scholarship 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 and to prevent him from securing his place as valedictorian of his graduating class, prevented Don Pedro from taking the final exams for two required law courses. Returning to Puerto Rico in 1921, Don Pedro was forced to correspond with the university and obtain permission to have the exams administered in Puerto Rico.
After back-and-forth correspondence from Puerto Rico to Harvard, Don Pedro took his remaining final exams in June 1922 and was finally awarded his diploma in the beginning of 1923. He was sworn in as an official lawyer in Puerto Rico in the beginning of 1924. De Jesús draws a parallel with Puerto Rican and Latino/a students of today by highlighting Don Pedro’s academic and personal challenges related to his health, his financial struggles, and his subjection to racial discrimination. De Jesús, as others have before him, also points out the clear presence of key influences that later found expression in Don Pedro’s leadership of Puerto Rico’s independence movement, namely Catholicism and the Indian and Irish struggles for national independence.
- 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).