During last week’s historic visit to the United States, President Luis Guillermo Solís received an extraordinary souvenir: an honorary law degree from Duquesne University, a private Catholic school located in Pittsburgh, PA.
“We had established a relationship with Costa Rica,” said Duquesne’s law school dean, Ken Gormley during a phone interview with The Tico Times. “We concluded that Costa Rica was the best possible match for Duquesne, because it is such a stable democracy. It’s an advanced nation that really puts education at the top of the list. It was a place I felt comfortable sending students on exchange programs. This was not a random selection. This was a conscious choice.”
Thanks to the trialblazing efforts of law professor Robert S. Barker and University of Costa Rica professor Marvin Carvajal, Duquesne and UCR have exchanged students and resources for several years. Gormley came to Costa Rica last year to deliver two talks, including one at UCR, where Solís taught history.
When Solís was elected president, Gormley and his colleagues extended an invitation to visit Duquesne, which Carvajal delivered to Solís in person. No one at Duquesne expected Solís to answer the invitation so quickly, much less make time to visit Pittsburgh within a year or two. But when Solís was scheduled to speak at the United Nations Climate Summit on Sept. 23, he opted to make a side trip to Western Pennsylvania last Saturday.
“We were just thrilled,” said Gormley. “I had high expectations, but his speech and his warmth – and that of the first lady – just exceeded all expectations.”
Indeed, Solís delivered a speech about the responsibility of developed nations, calling on the United States to embrace peace, after which Duquesne President Charles J. Dougherty presented the president with the honorary degree.
Gormley has been deeply impressed with Costa Rica’s role on the global stage, but he personally relates to Solís’ humble background as the son of a Turrialba schoolteacher and shoemaker.
“He comes from such modest means,” said Gormley. “I grew up in a steel mill town myself. Duquesne was founded to help recent immigrants. In many ways, [Solís] is an embodiment of everything that we consider important about education. He’s risen to such prominence; he’s someone who really understands Costa Rica’s place in the world community.”
According to Gormley, one the best moments happened after the ceremony: First Lady Mercedes Peñas asked to see Duquesne’s chapel, one of the campus’ most scenic venues. He says that the president’s security detail hesitated, but Gormley insisted that they visit. When the entourage arrived, the chapel was in the midst of hosting a wedding ceremony. The wedding photographer looked miffed at all the unexpected company.
“I said to the photographer, ‘We have the president of Costa Rica here. Would you like a picture with him?’” Soon the bride and groom were posing with Solís, followed by the photographer himself, then other attendees.
“I just found it a wonderful experience,” said Gormley. “People just loved him.”