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At 19, Fil-Am youngest
Harvard law grad, a magna

By Cristina DC Pastor
Inquirer News Service

MEET Kiwi Alejandro Camara, who made history in Harvard Law School. kiwicamara.com

NEW YORK -- He was reading serious grownup books at 3, carrying on a conversation about Warren Buffet's stock picks at 6, and had written a paper on alternative treatments for rheumatoid arthritis by the time he was 11.

He finished an undergraduate course in computer science and mathematics at 16.

Last June, at age 19, he earned his doctorate in law magna cum laude, making him possibly the youngest graduate in Harvard Law School history.

Philippine-born Kiwi Alejandro Danao Camara, who turned 20 on June 16, has a life running on fast-forward and he is enjoying the ride immensely.

"[But] I don't feel I'm different," Kiwi told the Inquirer in a phone interview. "I'm just a regular guy."

While awaiting results of the bar exams he took last week, Kiwi is winding down his research for the Harvard units of the John M. Olin Fellowship in Law and Economics, and Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

In September, he will clerk for Court of Appeals Judge Harris Hartz of the 10th Circuit, easing his transition from the academe to professional practice. The position is one of prestige: Recent law graduates turn down six-figure annual salaries in private firms to work for government at $48,000.

'Reason moved by passion'

Hartz, a Harvard alumnus himself, has jurisdiction over the southwestern states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Kansas, Eastern Oklahoma, Western Oklahoma, Northern Oklahoma, and New Mexico -- where he keeps chambers in Albuquerque.

Kiwi explained: "Most people would go into law practice [straight from] school, but some take clerkships to immerse themselves in general practice and acquire experience in a variety of cases. Working for a federal judge is really a great way to get exposed to high-quality legal arguments."

He speaks with as much humor and easy confidence as maturity, depth and authority. He exudes the seriousness of purpose of a Jack McCoy but does not mind quoting the movie character Elle Woods in "Legally Blonde" to define law as "reason moved by passion."

'Normal' family

Kiwi's childhood was as "normal" as possible under the circumstances, according to his parents who are both doctors. Enrico, a psychiatrist, and Theresa, a rheumatologist, raised their only child in a nurturing environment with the proper blend of caring, attention and material support.

"Intellectually, he has always been precocious," said the boy's uncle Jorge Camara, a prominent ophthalmologist in Hawaii. "His teachers noticed his remarkable maturity. His parents encouraged it, [but] didn't make him feel unusual."

That Kiwi comes from a family of achievers may partly explain his exceptional abilities. The Camaras, of Iba town in Zambales province, are a clan of medical professionals. His grandfather Augusto has a cardiology practice at Makati Medical Center that spans many decades. Aside from a psychiatrist and an ophthalmologist, Augusto's 12 children also include an allergist, an orthodontist, a chiropractor and a cardiologist.

Grandpa summa cum laude

"My father graduated summa cum laude from the University of the Philippines with an average of 1.06, the highest [ever recorded]," Jorge noted.

Theresa -- from the Danaos of Bulacan province -- was also a summa cum laude. She and Enrico met and dated at UP.

Kiwi himself does not try to explain his "gift." He believes his family to be just like any other. As a kid, although he had a computer, he mostly played with children his age. In time, though, Jorge did notice that the boy was associating more with adults than with his peers.

That conversation about stock market investor Warren Buffet took place between Kiwi and a friend of Jorge's.

Ballroom dancer

Today, Kiwi plays tennis, golf and racquetball. He has a passion for ballroom dancing, and has won numerous awards for the Harvard-Radcliffe Ballroom Dance Team.

"I've seen him dance -- he's amazing," said another uncle, Dr. Martin Camara, a chiropractor and also director of the Philippine Institute of Traditional Health Care under the Department of Health. "You'd think he'd have terrible social skills, being so gifted, but no, he has excellent people skills."

On the other hand, Kiwi is an avid reader of academic-type, legal, and scientific literature, and is a member of Mensa, the international society of certified geniuses.

A year after Kiwi was born, the family moved to Cleveland. The boy attended Ratner Academy, a Jewish school, where his ability to use complex words and his reading discipline -- he finished all book assignments before school closed each summer -- set him apart from the other students.

When the couple decided to transfer their practice to Honolulu and moved there in 1991, Kiwi went to Punahou School to finish the remainder of his elementary years.

Record-shattering scores

In his new environment -- the weather was better, he said -- Kiwi excelled once more as a student, registering a record-shattering score in his scholastic aptitude test.

He was given the option to skip high school and take early college courses at the Hawaii Pacific University. Thus he took the leap from eighth grade to college.

His parents were not so sure it was a good idea. One of their concerns was that Kiwi would be missing the social interaction in high school, which they believed was an important phase.

"Technically, he would be a high school dropout," Theresa told the Honolulu Advertiser at the time.

Enrico told the Inquirer: "To me as a parent it was a difficult decision because academics aren't the only things you learn in high school. There's overall character development, social and emotional development."

Why Harvard

But as usual, they let Kiwi decide. "We have always trusted his judgment," Enrico said.

By 16, Kiwi had an undergraduate degree in computer science from HPU. Moving on to law school, he chose Harvard over Yale and the University of Pennsylvania. He explained: "Harvard is the oldest and most respected. It also has much larger range of programs, and a bigger faculty that is strong in my main area of interest, corporate law. It's a nice place with genuinely nice people."

Hooked on law

"He was the youngest [on record] to enter law school when he did, so it's not unreasonable to believe he's the youngest to graduate," Harvard spokesperson Michael Rodman told the Inquirer.

Kiwi said he had been drawn to the course by a subject in constitutional law that he had taken in HPU. What he learned from Prof. Sandy Muir of Berkeley, he complemented with readings on law and social institutions. He was, moreover, "hooked on the discipline."

He finds corporate law "most interesting," he said. "It has practical importance in the structuring of business transactions, and it is crucial to the economy." It is a field that would be "fun to explore" in practice, Kiwi said, except that he would rather teach.

Self-expression

Jorge believes his nephew chose law over medicine as a form of self-expression. "He's an only child, and some kids tend to want to be in a field apart from that of his parents," he said.

When Kiwi graduated from Harvard, his maternal grandparents, Francisco and Norma Danao flew over for the celebration.

"I felt like I was floating," Norma told the Inquirer in a phone interview. "I was very, very proud."

Asked about the bar exams, Kiwi sounded like any other new, young, and hopeful graduate: "I hope to pass," he simply said, quite obviously not realizing the irony of such a statement. With PDI Research