When EARTH University opened its doors to welcome the first class of students in March of 1990, it marked a turning point in the lives of 60 young men and women. These students, painstakingly selected from more than 600 applicants from disadvantaged and rural communities in Latin America, were entrusted with the task of setting EARTH on the course for what it has become today. For their hard work and willingness to lead the way for the generations to come, they are known as the “pioneers” of EARTH University.
The name “pioneer” was coined on the very first day of classes, March 26, 1990. With the Presidents and First Ladies of Costa Rica and Honduras in attendance as well as local farmers and community members, EARTH University President Jose Zaglul gave the first of many inaugural speeches ushering in the class year, during which he expressed deep gratitude to the courageous students who made up the first class.
“They won their entrance on their own merit and it is an honor for the school to have them here with us. They are the real reason behind this institution. In four years they will be returning to their countries with the knowledge, skills and especially the spirit to become pioneers of the humid tropics. They will be the new generation we have longed for. They will be leaders, and we are giving them the confidence and hope of their people.”
Class began that very same day after the ceremony, on EARTH’s newly built campus that still lacked a few finishing touches. The red-roofed classrooms and buildings were surrounded by miles of flat pasture land, with none of the colorful tropical trees, flowers and grass that cover our campus today. Several of the student residences, staff housing and the cafeteria had not yet been constructed, forcing some of the professors to live alongside students in the dormitories.
Despite the unique challenges the students faced in that first year, the class of 1993 proudly identify with their pioneer status and their role as the first of many generations of leaders, including pioneer Marcos Salas (’93, Costa Rica) who is, quite literally, EARTH’s number one student. He explains, “I’m very proud to be a pioneer, I even have the first ID card of any student at EARTH! My number is 001. I keep it at home because I don’t want to lose it; it’s very special to me.”
Today, Marcos owns his own root exportation business, and reflects that even after 24 years his memories of his first impressions of EARTH are fresh.
“When I arrived, there were already people from other countries, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador etc. We started little by little to listen and recognize their accents and learn more about other cultures and different ways of looking at the world. It was such a unique experience, unlike any other.”
The growing pains of the first year of the Institution were inevitable, but the students and faculty kept a constant dialogue about what was needed to make EARTH complete. Marcos recalls, “When we arrived, there were no fans anywhere and we quickly informed them that they were absolutely necessary. They also created the Student Center at our suggestion, so we could have more things to do in our free time.”
One of their biggest achievements was the creation of the academic farm, with the help of professor Ricardo Palacios. In remembering the enormous effort he and his classmates put in, Marcos states, “All of us that year worked so hard to prepare the ground, tilling by tractors and weeding by hand and with machetes. It was a lot of work but we all wanted to do something for the next class, to leave it for them.”
Above all, Marcos feels proud to be a pioneer of EARTH University and is glad he took a leap of faith, saying, “The experience at EARTH was worth taking the risk.”
“EARTH is about leadership as a way to make change. Don José and the professors and everyone at EARTH instilled in us the importance of changing the world, taking care of the environment and doing things better.”
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