Dominican community at Harvard

177 years after Los Trinitarios raised the tricolor ensign, today it stands in front of the statue of John Harvard, benefactor of the University that bears his name in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States. This institution, the oldest house of higher learning in the U.S. and founded in 1636, has a chronicle that began with Quisqueya.

Since the 1960s, pioneers Manuel José Cabral and Marco Antonio Cabral, both natives of Santiago de los Caballeros, made their way to study at this university. However, it would take decades for more and more Dominicans to enter these walls: less than 20 Dominicans would graduate from Harvard in the years between 1960 and 2000.

would graduate from Harvard between the 1960s and 2010-in different programs including undergraduate and graduate degrees in business, law, government, design, medicine, and education. However, very positive trends have been noted in recent years, with close to 30 Dominicans from the island earning degrees from the university in the last decade alone, and with a dozen currently enrolled, including Santo Domingo East native José Ramón Valdez, who is the first Dominican public school graduate to enter Harvard.

And these figures do not take into account the dozens of Dominicans from the diaspora to whom Harvard’s doors have opened. Usually, there are a number of Dominicans at Harvard who are not automatically identified as having been born in the United States or having emigrated themselves and completed part of their high school education in New York, New Jersey or Massachusetts. Such is the case of Julissa Reynoso Pantaleón, a native of Salcedo, who emigrated at the age of seven to the Bronx and after excelling in high school, she entered Harvard in 1993 and later studied law at Cambridge and Columbia Universities. Today she is the Chief of Staff to the First Lady of the United States. More recently we have the case of Adelson Aguasvivas, born in La Jaguita de Tenares, and after emigrating to the Bronx at the age of 8, he was able to stand out enough to get on the radar of that university.

Today there is an incipient Dominican Student Association at Harvard, as well as a growing community of Dominican graduates on the island and around the world. However, there have not yet been enough graduates to create a chapter of the Harvard Alumni Association in Santo Domingo. Given the current encouraging trends, we hope that the Dominican Republic will soon have its own official and recognized alumni network-giving even greater visibility to the fact that our students can indeed aspire to such studies.

The admission process for this academic dream is unfortunately unattainable for most Dominicans, both inside and outside of our two-thirds of the island. The lack of a knowledgeable support system for the entry requirements is the beginning of this occurrence. The educational ecosystem that surrounds low-income families, both here and abroad, sadly ignores the importance of academic counseling, essay and statement of intent preparation, English and college aptitude tests. If you are interested in getting into this type of college and the acronyms SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, and TOEFL are not familiar to you, it is likely that your chances are diminished for reasons that have slipped through your fingers.

A pending conversation, for the welfare of the country, is to see the role that both the state and educational institutions of all kinds can play in preparing a global student body that beyond baseball or bachata, can elevate our tricolor ensign for its academic excellence.

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