Former Colombian president to speak, receive honorary degree

Former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will deliver the 2023 commencement address at Notre Dame, per a February 27 press release. At the ceremony this May, he will also receive an honorary degree.

Santos will return to campus after joining the Keough School of Global Affairs as a “distinguished policy fellow” this past fall, 2022. He served as Colombian President from 2010–2018, during which time he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for his part in ending the 52-year civil war fought between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC).

This announcement comes days after his country’s Constitutional Court ruling to decriminalize abortion before 24 weeks. During a Wednesday February 23 visit to Harvard University’s Institute of Politics (IOP), Santos “welcomed his country’s recent move to decriminalize abortion.”

“I agree with what the Constitutional Court did in Colombia, expanding the weeks where abortion is allowed,” Santos noted at the event, adding, “I think it was a correct move, and I support it.”

As President of Colombia, Santos, through the help of Notre Dame and the Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies, negotiated a peace deal with the FARC-guerilla. FARC is a leftist terrorist organization who have initiated continued violence in the country since the 1960’s. The peace deal was initially voted against in a referendum by the people of Colombia but then ratified by Congress. It faced extensive controversy for many reasons, notably allowing the FARC to participate in the political society and assigning no punishment to terrorist members who confess their crimes. Two years after the official ratification, Santos left office with one of the lowest approval ratings in Colombian history at 22%

Notre Dame News’s commencement speaker announcement claims that the Kroc Institute was “given primary responsibility for technical verification and monitoring of the accord. This is the first time a university has been given responsibility for real-time monitoring of a peace agreement.” In the same announcement, Notre Dame claims that only “50 percent of [the peace agreement’s] provisions have been either completely implemented or are at the intermediate stage.”

During his time as a distinguished policy fellow with the Keough School of Global Affairs this fall, Santos delivered the 29th Annual Hesburgh Lecture in Ethics and Public Policy. During this time at Notre Dame, Santos focused on his peace works and environmental conservation.

In his remarks at the Keough School’s “The Interconnectedness of Peace and Nature Conservation” event, he noted: “Continued damage to the planet and ecosystems presents the biggest long-term risk to global human security of our time. We must tackle these challenges together to achieve peace and environmental integrity.”

His speech contained special acknowledgments and appreciation for the U.S State Department in their works in brokering peace in Colombia and leading the fight against climate change. He specifically thanked Al Gore and John Kerry for their advice and knowledge. Santos concluded his remarks referencing his innermost desire to make peace both with the FARC and with “mother nature.” He concluded, “I think we need to approach the problem of the environment as we approach the problem of human beings: Humans have rights, nature also has rights.”

Father Jenkins celebrated Santos’ selection as commencement speaker: “President Santos honored us with his presence on campus last fall as a distinguished policy fellow in our Keough School of Global Affairs, and we look forward to welcoming him back in May,” He continued, “His courageous leadership and resolute commitment ended a half-century-long civil war and put his nation on a path to peace and prosperity.”

The Commencement Ceremony will be held on May 21, 2023 in Notre Dame Stadium. 

Joseph DeReuil is a junior from St. Paul, MN studying philosophy and classics. He can be reached at

Nico Schmitz is a junior from Los Angeles, CA in the Program of Liberal Studies. You can reach out to him with concerns at

Photo Credit: ND News

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