Lauro Cavazos: Trailblazer for Hispanic education as Texas Tech president, secretary of education

Published: Mar. 17, 2022 at 10:18 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Lauro Cavazos, who passed away Wednesday, was a trailblazer for Hispanics education.

He was the first Hispanic president of Texas Tech and then became the first Hispanic to ever hold a cabinet office, as secretary of education.

His longtime friend, appointed Texas State Historian Monte Monroe, said his life began like so many others in West Texas. Cavazos grew up on a ranch in Kingsville, the famous King Ranch.

Monroe said advice from Cavazos’ father led his legacy.

“If I can do it, anybody can do it. He was always talking about that. He served his country. He got his education like his father wanted to do, and then he strived always to be a gentleman,” Monroe said.

Cavazos’ education began in a rural two-door school. Although schools were segregated, a school board voted to let him into an all-white school.

“If there’s any lesson to be learned from Dr. Cavazos that is, get your education, stay in school, make the best grades that you humanly can, strive for honor. He believed in that, which is our Tech motto,” Monroe said.

From there Cavazos served his country, fighting in World War 2, then collected a long list of degrees, including his bachelors and masters at Texas Tech.

“He bled red and black, and you would hear that from him. Often,” Monroe said. “He always thought about it, how to make it, improve it and improve the lives of students to elevate the level of scholarship that was going on on campus.”

When Cavazos was appointed president of Texas Tech, he laid the foundation for Tech to become the tier one Carnegie research institution it is today.

“He was very particular about protecting that heritage and that legacy that had been given to Tech by the pioneer citizens of this town that brought Texas Tech University here to Lubbock,” Monroe said.

Monroe was with Cavazos and his wife Peggy as he made his last trip to Texas Tech graduation in May 2016, when the university conferred an honorary doctorate on him. Monroe chaired the committee that approved the degree.

When Reagan appointed him as secretary of education, Hispanics only had a 37 percent school retention rate. Throughout his time under two presidents, Cavazos led a task force to increase that number.

“He traveled all over the world, he really cared about increasing Hispanic enrollment. Not only keeping kids in K through 12 school, Hispanic children, but also to provide opportunities. And that was one of the things he also did on the Texas Tech campus,” Monroe said.

Hispanic Texas Tech alum and former KCBD Reporter Michael Cantu conducted this interview with Cavazos before his death.

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