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The National Autonomous University of Mexico

Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities 2009

Speech by José Narro, Rector of the National Autonomous University of Mexico:

I attend this ceremony, full of pride and gratitude, as the representative of a University whose origins go back more than four and a half centuries, one which has been an enclave of culture and knowledge, of the defence of liberties and of justice, as well as forming part of the national conscience.

Millions of students, academics and other staff have passed through its facilities throughout the 20th century and the present one. The National Autonomous University of Mexico was built on their efforts and commitment.

On its behalf, on behalf of its greater community, on behalf of the former rectors and authorities that accompany me here today, I am deeply grateful to the Prince of Asturias Foundation and to the corresponding Jury for recognising the quality of the academic work and social commitment of our institution. I wish to convey both to His Highness the Prince of Asturias and to you all the great significance that this event has for us.

I would like to acknowledge here the personalities and organisations that gave their support to the UNAM. I am especially grateful to the Most Honourable Ambassador of Spain to Mexico, who presented the candidature and who always expressed the conviction that the University was worthy of this Award. My thanks to all of those who believed that the UNAM fulfilled the essential requisites of being outstandingly exemplary and of having accomplished work of acknowledged international standing.

I share this distinction with the members of the UNAM community present here today and especially with the thousands of students, lecturers and university staff who, thanks to the wonders of telecommunications, are witnessing this ceremony in my country. The distinction belongs to them all and to the generations that made history, including those extraordinary men and women exiled from Spain who enriched us 70 years ago.

The Award that is conferred on the University constitutes a major motivation to reaffirm our commitment to education and society’s causes. Knowledge has always been important for human beings, but it is now fundamental. There is no sphere of life which is not influenced by knowledge. That is why the lack of interest of some in these matters is so worrying, as is also the fact that it is not a priority in many places or that resources are not made available for its generation and transmission. Without a science of its own, without a vigorous, quality higher education system, a society is condemned to la maquila, the in-bond assembly shop, to the half-way point in development.

That is why it is essential to demand the right to education. That is why it is necessary to insist, and to insist again. Education is the path to human self-improvement, on both an individual and collective level. Conceiving of it as a fundamental right is one of the major ethical advances in history. As a public and social good, higher education must be accessible to everyone in accordance with criteria of quality and equity. That is why it is so distressing that in today’s world, with its great developments, there are almost 900 million people who do not even know how to read and write.

It might appear to some that to speak of values or of humanism is a matter of the past, of the Renaissance or of the 19th century. They are wrong. It is also a matter of here and now and of the future. The best antidote against illusory success, selfishness, corruption and indifference are the enduring lay values of yesteryear.

That is why the crisis the world’s population is facing requires a profound review of the values which we transmit to the younger generations. This must be done in view of the fact that inequality and backwardness affect thousands of millions of people worldwide. Modernity must translate as better conditions for those who have always been ostracized. True knowledge is not neutral; it must be steeped in social commitment.

Let us make the most of the opportunity offered by the failure of the financial system to propose new schemes for development that allow young people to recover hope for a more encouraging future. The great challenge consists in achieving progress in which the human and social aspects constitute what is important.

I conclude by reiterating our gratitude for the distinction we have received. It represents a motivation to strengthen our commitment to quality education and to society’s causes and needs.

“The spirit shall speak for my people”

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