Costa Rican president leads candid conversation, receives university’s Presidential Gold Medallion

Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera after receiving FIU’s Presidential Gold Medallion. From left to right: Director of the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center Frank Mora; Founding Dean of the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs John F. Stack, Jr.; Solís; FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg; First Lady of Costa Rica Mercedes Peñas Domingo; Student Government Association President for Modesto A. Maidique Campus Krista Schmidt.

Spending time at FIU was a homecoming of sorts for Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera. A former researcher for the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center (LACC), Solís also worked with the Center for the Administration of Justice – both of which are housed within the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs.

Solís visited FIU Sept. 22 to give a talk about his homeland and to receive FIU’s Presidential Gold Medallion – the highest honor the university bestows upon heads of state and other high-ranking public officials. This was the first Gold Medallion FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg conferred since becoming president of the university in 2009.

“FIU recognizes you for your leadership, scholarship and humanitarian endeavors on behalf of the people of Costa Rica and beyond,” Rosenberg told Solís during the ceremony. “Through your commitment to a life of service and dedication to building greater knowledge and understanding across borders, you are improving life for your countrymen while continuing to build a legacy that will touch generations to come.”

John F. Stack, Jr., founding dean of the Green School, commended President Solís’ commitment to the reduction of inequality in all of its forms. “Costa Rica stands as a global leader in the areas of environmental sustainability, commitment to the promotion of green economics and increased opportunities for women in every sector of Costa Rican life.”

“I am truly very, very pleased and honored by this occasion,” Solís said. “Coming back to FIU is coming back home.”

After receiving the medal, Solís discussed Costa Rica’s opportunities and challenges in front of a riveted audience that included many proud Costa Ricans, with Frank Mora, director of LACC, moderating the discussion. Solís discussed everything from the country successfully using nearly 100 percent renewable energy to the vast income inequality gap that plagues Costa Rica.

When Mora asked about Solís’ distinguished academic career and its impact on his political career, Solís said, “I am not a politician, I am a professor.”

For nearly 30 years Solís devoted himself to the University of Costa Rica, where he has held positions such as directorships and a deanship. Today, he remains a tenured professor of history and political science. He added with a laugh that once his term as president ends, he will go back to his boss at the university – if not, he might get fired.

“The truth of the matter is people were fed up with the kinds of politics that they were usually in contact with,” Solís said. “Having a professor come in with a different perspective on things was good.”

One of the advantages: “You end up being more respectful of diversity,” Solís said. “You are a true academic if you consistently admit the nature of universitas [Latin for “the whole, total, the world”]. Then you learn that yes, you may have a truth, but that truth needs to be built upon respect of plurality and diversity.”

At the end of his talk, as audience members prepared to exit the room, Solís surprised everyone by addressing the Costa Ricans in the room with a personal statement of gratitude in Spanish. To the delight of the audience, he then asked to take a photo with all the Costa Ricans, affectionately called “Ticos.”

Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera with fellow Costa Ricans who attended the ceremony and talk.

Later that day, Solís and First Lady Mercedes Peñas Domingo also met with a group of talented students from various programs within the Green School such as the Model United Nations program and the Jack D. Gordon Institute’s Cybersecurity Fellowship program.

The students had the rare opportunity to introduce themselves to Solís and to ask him a question. Just a few of the topics raised: Costa Rican salaries and wages, the country’s stance on the Cuban embargo, its policy on China, issues of women’s voting rights and possible applications of emerging technologies.

“I felt honored to get to meet the leader of a country,” said Carolina Ramos, an international relations major who participated in the student meeting.

She especially enjoyed the intimate feel of the conversation with Solís and the tone he established at his talk earlier that day. “He was completely candid and open about his opinions, and I think that’s very admirable. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

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