Former Peruvian President Speaks to USF Community

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Michelle Doyle
Contributing Writer

Former Peruvian President and USF alum Alejandro Toledo visited campus on Apr. 14 to discuss his new book The Shared Society: A Vision for the Global Future of Latin America. Toledo spoke to a room full of USF students and faculty about the highlights of his book, which include the importance of access to education and the importance of youth participation in sustaining democratic practices around the world. “Had I not started at USF I never would have made it in the world” said Toledo. 

Toledo, the first ever Latin American president to be elected by democratic vote, began his undergraduate education at USF in the 1960’s after meeting a Peace Corps group traveling through his small village in the Andes. Members of the group encouraged him to apply for an educational scholarship. The rest is history. During his hour-long talk, Toledo discussed his plan for prosperity, which emphasizes the importance of basic resources such as water and education, as well as capital and democracy. “I have decided to dedicate the rest of my life to killing poverty, everyone has their crazy and this is mine.” Toledo said.

“He really wanted USF to be the beginning of this new project,” said Father Fitzgerald. “His story is an amazing story. He comes from this lower class society, and through a chance encounter, ends up here, gets a fantastic education, goes back, gets his doctorate, and becomes the president of his country,” he continued.

Toledo’s accomplishments since his time at USF include one Presidential term that oversaw a 25 percent decrease in poverty, 52 honorary doctorate degrees, and a current fellowship at Stanford University.

“It was fascinating to hear this core perspective as to how growth and prosperity can occur within a developing nation,” said Lissette Lizarraga, a graduate student in the international and multicultural education program.

For Clark Campagna, Assistant to the Associate Dean for Faculty Scholarship and Academic Effectiveness these facets of Toledo’s plan provided an approach that expands upon possible solutions for economic growth: “The panaceas [around the American civic and economic discourse] often revolve around strengthening business and modifying tax schemes.”

He continued, “It was refreshing to see a politician advance a strategy that also benefits sustainable health outcomes, higher educational achievement and a more balanced environment.”

For Toledo, this emphasis on higher education achievement is the most valuable key to change: “Making money is good, but it’s not the end aspiration, the world needs a moral solidarity shared among [youth]” He said. inspiring a moral solidarity that will influence democratic decisions is a main goal of Toledo’s book: “the young people of today who need to make crucial decisions, [and] that demands courage, whatever we decide today or the lack of decisions today will depend on the quality of life of the youth 35 years from now.”

“I found the address to have a lot of provocative and interesting ideas” said Campagna.

These ideas left USF students wanting to know what we can do now to create change from here. Jennifer Verhines, a friend of Lizarraga remarked, “His personal story and career is pretty amazing and inspiring, [My question is] how can people in the audience use this to help implement progress as well?”

Campagna left with similar sentiments, saying, “I wish he could have focused more intently on a smaller area of his book and provide a bit more context behind how his own experiences as president compelled him to write the proposals in the way he did.”

The eagerness shared by audience members to take action is exactly what Toledo is aiming for: “I hope that young people will become more active and participate in the structure of their community rather than let other people make the decision for their lives.” said Toledo after his speech.

So how do we actually start to create this vision and make a change? “Dream with eyes open,” Toledo concluded.

Photo Credits: Kristian George

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