small individual study area in a library
Whenever I felt out of place or homesick, I took refuge at Firestone Library. Books had seen me through an earlier time of trouble, and their presence all around me was both a comfort and an answer to the question of why I had come here. From my first day on campus, I’d enviously eyed the
carrels in Firestone, which were reserved for upperclassmen.
an inherent cognitive or perceptual power of the mind
The introductory surveys would involve just as much work, given their broad scope, as more specialized advanced courses and would allow me for the first time to cultivate the critical
faculties that Miss Katz had tried to instill: understanding the world by engaging with its big questions rather than just absorbing the factual particulars.
marked by a disposition to oppose and contradict
The very thought of their proximity would keep me awake all night. And so when I realized that the psych lab would oblige me to handle rodents while I studied their reactions, I decided, a little
perversely, to make the most of it.
any long and tedious address or recital
Professor Weiss told a familiar tale: although my paper was chock-full of information and even interesting ideas, there was no argumentative structure, no thesis that my
litany of facts had been marshaled to support.
make less severe or harsh
In writing, however, one’s words stand naked on the page. Professor Weiss had
minced none of her own informing me that my English was weak: my sentences were often fragments, my tenses erratic, and my grammar often just not grammatical.
of or relating to meaning or the study of meaning
Over summer vacations spent working at Prospect Hospital, or later at the Department of Consumer Affairs in Spanish Harlem, I’d devote each day’s lunch hour to grammar exercises and to learning ten new words, which I would later test out on Junior, trying to make them my own. Junior was unfazed by my
expend, as from a fund
My fingers froze on the keys as I read what I was typing: financial figures of the most well-off at Princeton. This was my first glimpse of trust funds; tax write-offs and loopholes; summer jobs at Daddy’s firm that paid the equivalent of a year’s tuition; incomes in the millions,
disbursed a half million here, a few hundred thousand for that poor guy there.
burdensome or difficult to endure
The bilingual program at Hostos Community College included an English writing requirement. It wasn’t as terrifying to her as the math, but it was
onerous and she was struggling with it.
resembling or characteristic of a phantom
At the funeral, my sorrow flared into rage when I saw Nelson appear briefly, a
spectral presence on the fringe of the mourners.
a relationship of mutual understanding between people
Coming from a poor neighborhood of Brooklyn and a traditionally conservative Puerto Rican family herself, Margarita understood instinctively the path I had traveled to Princeton. We rarely needed to talk about the incongruities of our being there, and so our
rapport progressed quickly to more urgent matters.
be in contradiction with
A space where one had a natural sense of belonging, a circle of friends who shared the same feeling of being a stranger in a strange land, who understood without need for explanation: it amounted to a subtle but necessary psychic refuge in an environment where an undercurrent of hostility often
belied the idyllic surface.
The blacks, Latinos, and Asians at Princeton went back to their
respective high schools, met with guidance counselors, and recruited promising students they knew personally.
a high-ranking university administrator
It was not until we filed a formal complaint with the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare that we got President William Bowen’s attention and a dialogue opened. Within a month, the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education had sent someone to meet with us in the
a dissenting clique
I was proud of that victory, seeing it as a tribute to how well I listened and brokered compromises between
a gathering of the minimal number of members of a group
Years before, I discovered, a Princeton student had put together a course on Puerto Rican history, and now, under the guidance of Professor Winn, I set out to revive it, bringing the syllabus up to date and recruiting the necessary
quorum of students.
a politically organized body of people under a government
Again and again, the conversation returned to the island’s political status. Did we want to remain a
commonwealth, with some self-rule and a preferential trade relationship with the mainland? \
difficult or impossible to understand
The economic repercussions of each position were as
inscrutably complex as they were critical to the arguments.
being present everywhere at once
But instead of playing the Three Stooges, my cousins and I enjoyed dominoes, dancing, and the
ubiquitous bottle of rum.
bring up a topic for discussion
Another revelation of my adult trips to the island was how much the political questions
broached in my course, especially about the island’s status, infused everyday life.
feeling downcast and disheartened and hopeless
This manic enthusiasm that gripped the island in election years, and still does, was a marked contrast to the political
despondency felt by Puerto Ricans on the mainland in those years.
an extended communication dealing with some particular topic
It was then I first saw how difficult it was to energize a community that felt marginal and voiceless in the larger
discourse of a democracy.
We moved from mountainside farms to small towns like San Germán, Lajas, Manatí, Arecibo, Barceloneta; and after a time, on to what were then the slums of Santurce in San Juan; from there the mainland beckoned, and we answered, boarding the
venerable US Army Transport George S. Simonds, the army transport that carried so many Puerto Ricans to New York, until Pan Am offered the first cheap airfares and we rode la guagua aérea, the aerial bus, between mainland and island.
become less in amount or intensity
I felt my own shiver of recognition too, remembering my early misery as a C student at Blessed Sacrament, in terror of the black-bonneted nuns wielding rulers, a misery that didn’t
abate until after Papi died and Mami made an effort to speak English at home.
sorrowful through loss or deprivation
Dolores sings the Mexican ballad of a lover so
bereft that after he dies, his soul, in the form of a dove, continues to visit the cottage of his beloved.
the quality of affording easy familiarity and sociability
Nearly every living Hispanic who had ever graduated from Princeton showed up, overflowing with pride and
camaraderie, for what amounted to a triumphant reunion.
the environmental condition
In different ways and in different styles, some loudly and others quietly, Princeton’s minorities have created a
milieu in which I could act and see the efforts accepted.
the feeling of being alienated from other people
It was perhaps then that I made a measure of peace with my unease: the uncertainty I’d always felt at Princeton was something I’d never shake entirely. For all the As and honors that could be bestowed, there would still lurk such moments of
estrangement to remind me that my being there was not typical but an exception.
level of authority in a hierarchy
It would have been even more daunting if we could have known at the time that the class of 1979 would go on to extraordinary success even by the school’s extraordinary standards: so many members are now deans and professors at top law schools, federal and state judges, or otherwise in the highest
echelons of government or practice.
with extreme conscientiousness
I read the cases
scrupulously and would never have dreamed of walking into class unprepared.
embody the essential characteristics of
But I had not yet discovered the benefit of sustained dialogue with someone who
epitomized the kind of achievement I aspired to, and much beyond that.
of high moral or intellectual value
José maintained community relations in his pro bono volunteer work as the very model of a citizen-lawyer, but he could maneuver with equal skill and self-assurance in the most
rarefied corridors of power.
a person who receives support from an influential patron
I still consider José’s advice carefully—indeed, I’ve sought it at every crossroads in my career—though I’m more likely to translate it into my own terms than to take it up directly. José has often spoken of what an unusual
protégée I’ve been: how I often confer with him, only then to do exactly as I please.
He laid out the criteria: the note had to be original, significant, and logically
a legal decision that influences subsequent decisions
I focused on statehood for purposes of the note because that was where
precedent was clearest.
a British lawyer who speaks in the higher courts of law
But an even bigger confidence breakthrough was shortly to come, with my participation in the mock trials for the
Barristers’ Union competition.
indicating favorable circumstances and good luck
I was working under men known as giants in courtroom work, and I was given a variety of assignments, the most challenging of which was a contribution to a brief being prepared for a huge antitrust case—an
auspicious opportunity if ever there was one.
an unbroken period of time during which you do something
The sense of failure was confirmed when I concluded my
stint as a summer associate without receiving a job offer.
a calm, lengthy, intent consideration
ruminations continued through the days of driving, as if the white line in the road were an arrow pointing toward the future.
an opening remark intended to secure an advantage
“That was really insulting. You presumed that I was unqualified before you had seen my résumé or taken the trouble to learn anything about me.”
He seemed to be waving it off as just a conversational
gambit, albeit on a sensitive topic, and he expressed admiration at how I had stood my ground.
an assembly to conduct judicial business
tribunal impaneled to investigate the complaint negotiated a full apology from Shaw, Pittman.