Fabian Garcia, member of the first surviving graduating class of what is today New Mexico State University.
The New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, the grandiose name of a fledgling school in Las Cruses, a dusty town near the Mexican border, was forced to cancel its first graduation ceremony on March 10, 1893 when the only member of the senior class was shot and killed in a robbery in town.
The school was founded in 1888 as Las Cruses College. It was and is the only Land Grant College in the state. Since 1960 it has been known as New Mexico State University.
Primarily an agricultural college, the school was soon producing living graduates including Fabian Garcia a year later.
Born in Chihuahua in 1871, Garcia was orphaned at the age of two and immigrated to New Mexico with his grandmother. He survived Apache raids as a child. His grandmother worked as a domestic in working for local ranchers and farmers around Grant County and he began working in the fields and orchards when he was able.
By 1885 both were employed by the Casad Orchard, one of the largest fruit operations in the Mesilla Valley, where the boy got practical experience working with orchard crops and the pests associated with them. Thomas Casad was so impressed by the keen intelligence of the boy that he underwrote his education. He was 16 before he received his first formal schooling, but soon mastered the basics, including reading and writing in English.
The day Las Cruces College opened for business in 1888, Garcia showed up to apply for admission carrying his copy of the McGuffey Reader. He was told to return after more preparation. He became a naturalized citizen in 1889 and in 1890 was admitted to the re-named College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts.
Garcia excelled as a student, concentrating on agriculture and pomology—the study of fruit. He also became an inadvertent entomologist interested in both insect pests and pollinators—he would eventually discover and have a sub-species of bee named for him. The diminutive young man also found time to play on the college’s football team.
At graduation, he became an assistant at the College and then, after further study at Cornell, he returned to Las Cruses as a horticulturalist and professor. He pioneered in the study of chili peppers and developed modern strains suitable for commercial cultivation. Despite prejudice against his origins, he rose to lead the department and died in 1948 a beloved figure who left his life savings to build a dorm for students with Hispanic names because, “I want to help poor boys, for I know their hardships.”
Today NMSU is considered the largest institution of higher learning in the United States serving a predominately Hispanic population.