At 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 3, 2011, University of Houston students, faculty and staff showed up en masse to hear former president of Mexico Vicente Fox give a lecture, “Leadership and Spirituality,” sponsored by the GCSW, the GCSW Alumni Association and the Gulen Institute. The UH community and news crews filled the auditorium, and the line wound around the Agnes Arnold buildings for those hoping to get in without an RSVP. In his lecture, Fox provided his perspective on the origins of leadership and the individual experiences from which leadership can be derived.
“Leadership comes from […] a determination and will to do something great in our lives,” Fox said.
Peppered with the occasional quip en español, Fox’s lecture spoke to the anticipated challenges and solutions between countries regarding future relations among leaders.
“Instead of building walls, we should be building bridges—bridges of understanding, […] bridges of respect to our own people,” said Fox. “If we want to build a future to compete with the East and to make sure that we protect our jobs, our productivity, our quality of life in front of that challenge, we must work together. We must work as partners.” He encouraged us to think as a society, Where do we want to be in 2040?
Halfway into the lecture, he began to discuss other issues, such as education
and the rise in the minority population and its future role. He addressed the “elephant in the room”— the drug cartel in Mexico. Fox spoke out in support of legalizing particular drugs, which incited one student to verbalize his approval, receiving applause and a few snickers from the student body. He encouraged a preventative approach to the drug issue using Portugal and the supply and demand model as examples, and he proposed that the issue might inherently be resolved if the demand for drugs were to decrease.
“How do I inform, prevent, educate my children not to consume drugs?” Fox said, “Work on the demand side of the problem and that would be the solution.”
The former president opened and concluded the lecture with the topic of spirituality and self-introspection. He encouraged the UH community to think about questions such as, “Am I happy with what I am doing? Am I doing enough? Am I doing things for others so that I can reach that happiness status?” As he asked the students to look upon their appreciation of education, he nudged the audience towards empathy and the common denominator for what makes us successful: opportunity.
“Maybe [those involved in the drug cartel] wanted an opportunity like the one you have here, to come to this state-of-the-art university,” he said, “maybe they tried to get a job and they couldn’t find it. Somewhere, they lost track in their life. What we’re talking about is opportunity.”
Students attended the lecture for a variety of reasons: some came out of loyalty and solidarity to Fox and Mexico while others came to the lecture out of curiosity. For some students, they attended out of interest over skepticism of his effectiveness during his time as president. Regardless of the reasons, his lecture touched upon topics that social workers frequently face: empowering others, increasing awareness, education and affecting policies to work towards the future. A timely affair, Fox said he appreciates the name we give our graduation in the United States: commencement—“a start to something new, preparing yourself, exercising leadership to bring your compassion and your love for others.”
A brief question and answer session followed with questions regarding religion, immigration, drug issues and advice for our own president. After amiably answering each, he shook the outstretched hand of an enthusiastic student, gave her a hug and jokingly said something to the effect of “Don’t put this on Facebook.” The auditorium bid him farewell with applause, and the impact of his visit and lecture continues to buzz throughout the campus.