Kansas Student-Athletes Enjoy Experience with Colombia's President Santos

Sept. 25, 2012

Vidal, Pezzotti and Salazar pose for a picture on the set where Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos held his public forum at the Dole Institute of Politics.


Since arriving on campus at the University of Kansas last August, sophomore soccer players Liana Salazar and Ingrid Vidal have had several memorable experiences.

The Colombian natives have gotten acquainted to living in a new country, helped lead the Jayhawk soccer team back to an NCAA Tournament and became the first group of athletes to represent their country in women’s soccer at the Olympics.

However, perhaps none of those experiences were as unique as what they were able to do Monday afternoon.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos returned to the University of Kansas Monday for a pair of speaking engagements at the Dole Institute of Politics. He also held a luncheon at the Lied Center, where he hosted two special guests – Salazar and Vidal.

“It was so amazing that our president came to visit us here (at KU),” said Vidal. “He’s the president. He’s so iconic. It was definitely an honor that we got to see him again.”

Salazar and Vidal had received words of encouragement from President Santos, a graduate of the University of Kansas, prior to this summer’s Olympic Games in London. However, Monday’s meeting was a bit more intimate.

After lunch with President Santos, First Lady Maria Clemencia “Tutina” Rodriguez as well as other members of the president’s staff, Salazar and Vidal were taken to the Dole Institute where they had a photo session with the president.

“The president was so proud that Liana and I are studying here,” said Vidal. “He knows we have a great opportunity for our future by living here. That’s just a little what we talked with him about.”

After spending three years in the Colombian Navy, Santos enrolled in classes at the University of Kansas in 1971. He graduated from KU with a B.A. in economics and business administration in 1973. He has publicly credited his time in Lawrence as well as his experience in the Delta Upsilon Fraternity with shaping who he is as a nation’s leader today.

During the photo opportunity with the president, the KU sophomores presented Santos with a soccer ball inscribed with his name as well as the Jayhawk logo.

“The photo session was short, but we got to give (President Santos) a soccer ball and he was happy to get that,” Salazar said. “He was very surprised and I know his wife was happy about it too.”

Salazar and Vidal were joined by fellow Colombian native and KU tennis junior Monica Pezzotti in the audience at President Santos’ last event of the day. Santos was interviewed in front of a packed house at the Dole Institute by director Bill Lacy and took questions from the audience.

“(President Santos) is trying to change the image people have of Colombia,” said Salazar. “When I came to Lawrence I told myself, ‘Okay, I’m Colombian, I have to change the view people have of Colombia.’ I think that he’s trying to do the same thing for the world. I really want to keep doing that, make sure people see that we are good students and good athletes.”

All in all, it was a very memorable experience for the Jayhawk student-athletes, who will all return to their regular class schedules Tuesday. However, the women will return with an extra sense of pride in their country.

“It’s a privilege for me to be playing here,” said Salazar. “It’s the same emotion as when I’m playing with my national team. When I heard the (President Santos) had graduated from here, I couldn’t believe it.”