Juan Manuel Santos might have done the easy thing and returned to Colombia to take over his family’s newspaper business.
But after graduating from KU in 1973, he instead decided to follow another family tradition — politics — and work toward resolving the conflicts that have wracked his native country for nearly his entire lifetime.
“Making war is much easier than making peace,” Santos told a crowd of fellow Jayhawks when he returned to KU for a visit in 2012.
Juan Manuel Santos is the first KU graduate to become a head of state.
He is the first Jayhawk to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
As Santos rose in the government ranks — he was elected president of Colombia in 2010 — he made risky political alliances, ordered dangerous hostage rescues, fought drug and crime syndicates, and frequently traveled to mountain and jungle villages that have been overrun by guerrillas and paramilitary groups for decades.
In 2012, he undertook the biggest challenge yet: bringing together government and rebel factions to negotiate an end to the longest civil war in modern history. The conflict has claimed the lives of 200,000 citizens and displaced nearly 7 million more.
Santos accepted the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize in December, just as Colombia agreed on passage of a final peace accord.
Santos, who studied business and economics at KU, says many of his political ideals were shaped by his time at the university: “Your strong commitment to certain values, to freedom, to democracy — this has been present in my heart and mind throughout.”