Home » A President Comes to Visit

A President Comes to Visit

A President Comes to Visit November 20, 2009

Students impressed with warmth and openness of former Costa Rican president Rodrigo Carazo

Rodrigo Carazo, former President of Costa Rica

What’s it like to have a former president visit your class?

“I imagined him coming in a limo with bodyguards,” Alex Nikazmerad, a Grinnell College student, remembered.

And what if the entire event – including your chance to meet and chat with him – would be conducted in Spanish?

“I was nervous to not make a fool of myself, to be polite, and to speak Spanish well,” recalled Kjersten Grinde from St. Olaf College. “Everyone was nervous.”

As it turned out, there was no presidential entourage and everyone present was quickly put at ease by the genuine, personable style of Rodrigo Carazo, the former President of Costa Rica, when he visited the ACM Costa Rica: Language, Society, and the Environment program in October.

“He started off by saying ‘I want to talk and connect with all of you. You are all students and you are all my friends,'” said Colorado College student David Glaize.

Rodrigo Carazo with the ACM students and Eduardo Estevanovich.

Carazo visited the ACM program in San José at the invitation of Program Director Christopher Vaughan, who met the former president in the 1990s after Carazo had heard about Vaughan’s work in conservation. Eduardo Estevanovich, the program’s Spanish Language and Academic Coordinator, is also acquainted with Carazo and joined Vaughan in formally welcoming the distinguished guest to the ACM Center.

Two students, Arielle Hayden from Emory University and Alec Arellano from Colorado College, introduced Carazo to the audience of students, program staff, professors who serve as research advisors for the spring program, friends, and neighbors.

Since serving as President from 1978-82, Carazo has been a respected activist in global peace initiatives, human rights concerns, and environmental issues. He also is President Emeritus and founder of the University for Peace, a United Nations institution headquartered in Costa Rica.

Arielle Hayden introducing former President Carazo.

In his wide-ranging lecture, Carazo covered topics such as world politics, Costa Rican history, and the environment. The students engaged in discussion with Carazo, as he fielded their questions after his lecture and then stayed to talk informally and pose for photos with the students. Afterward, the students wrote – in Spanish, of course – about their impressions of Carazo and what he had to say.

“The President spoke of the two most important things that we must do to better our lives and the lives around us: education and peace,” David Glaize noted. “We have to have an education to start a beginning, not to earn a title. Peace is a form of life. He said, ‘The world is happy if each of us is happy as well.'”

“The most important thing that Carazo discussed was that the planet is for everyone,” Kjersten Grinde wrote. “Each person and each country needs to improve their ecological impact in order to maintain the planets’ natural resources for everyone.”

Most of all, the students were impressed with the former president’s warmth and openness.

Alec Arellano summed up his reaction: “The most interesting thing that I came away with was the depth of Carazo’s humility and commitment to serving other human beings. Such qualities are rare in any person, let alone one who held public office. I had the good fortune to hear Desmond Tutu speak when I was in eighth grade, and Carazo reminded me a bit of him.”


On December 9, 2009, just a few weeks after his lively presentation and discussion at the ACM Costa Rica program, students and staff were saddened at news that Rodrigo Carazo had died from complications following heart surgery. The charismatic former President of Costa Rica was 82 years old.

Rodrigo Carazo speaks at the ACM Center in San José, Costa Rica.

Translations courtesy of ACM Program Associate Heather Everst.

Share this page