“Who would ever think that so much went on in the soul of a young girl?”
— Anne Frank
The first time one sees a picture of Camila Vallejo, it’s an easy mistake to think that she closely resembles Catherine Zeta-Jones, or perhaps she looks like a distant Chilean relation to newly-minted royal Kate Middleton. The 24-year old, Universidad de Chile student looks poised, bright-eyed, conversational and mostly nonchalant despite a growing paparazzi following that began documenting Vallejo’s life ever since early 2011. This spotlight attention which constantly exposes her leadership efforts to bring change to Chile’s higher education system, echoes a true-to-life reality that history’s most admired figures all learned intimately: for those who enjoy substantial privilege, there comes a great responsibility.
Last spring Chilean college students started organizing the demonstration in order to voice their discontent about the country’s universities shortcomings to policymakers, and quickly nominated Vallejo as the movement’s premier spokesperson. Aware that such a role required one to stifle their anxiety, maintain composure and act peacefully, she eagerly pledged a commitment to support the initiative. One year later, her involvement receives international media coverage whether she’s traveling to meet with other Latin America students or just grabbing a coffee while waiting to begin the next speaking engagement. A interview feature for UK-based, The Guardian, reports that the events concerning Chile’s higher education carry big political implications, “Sebastian Piñera, Chile’s president, has just 22% public approval ratings, the lowest ever in Chilean history.” Apparently the girl from Ipanema needs to take the back seat, because the world’s attention recently shifted to studying a young reformer hailing from La Florida.
Comparatively, although the ‘@GurlFromIpanema‘ describes herself as a ‘world traveler/saleswoman,’ who loves art, cocktails, and salsa; @Camila_Vallejo’s credentials date back to 2008 when she began acting as a prominent counselor to ‘Fech’ – also known as the Federación de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile. Shortly after this, she was voted the organization’s November 2010 President. It’s a shining testament to her character as the 105 year-old student union nominated only one other female president. Although her bid to win another presidential term failed, her growing web presence will certainly prepare one to endure a political career long term. In addition to building an extensive YouTube archive, her Twitter account alone connects with 590,000+ followers.
Moreover, Vallejo’s online presence also expresses the empathy she feels toward similar movements taking place all over Latin America. This past summer when Mexican university students kicked off the ‘#YoSoy132′ movement to contest recent Presidential election results, Vallejo made a trip to the capital, ready and willing to lend assistance wherever possible. These collaborative moments reassure the lingering doubts she maintains about creating truly sustainable changes. She frequently points out how “in Chile we are constantly hearing the message that our goals are impossible and that we are unrealistic, but the rest of the world, especially the youth, are sending us so much support. We are at a crucial moment in this struggle and international support is key.” Indeed, such efforts to band together as Latin America students proves an advantageous strategy as they try to overcome every new challenge involving higher education reformation.
So how will a University of Chile alum turned ‘media powerhouse’, with such an extensive, international reputation play her next move? A book deal seems more rewarding than a reality TV show, so that’s exactly what Vallejo set to accomplish right before the year’s end. In Janurary 2013, Vallejo’s new book entitled Podemos Cambiar el Mundo (We Can Change the World) will come out highlighting a collection of op-ed pieces she’s written, that outline the many problems plaguing Chile’s incredibly dysfunctional higher education system. The book also discusses what Vallejo predicts will need to happen if South American countries want to adequately prepare future students to enter an increasingly, competitive, global financial market. Not including the book pre-orders from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. the title already pre-sold 3,000 copies when launched earlier this fall.
Fortunately, modern emerging media platforms like Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Blogs allow a person to track the spotlight highlighting innovative education student leaders like Camila Vallejo, and support their efforts despite one’s physical address. And in watching Vallejo’s influence gain recognition more and more every day, it’s encouraging to know that her digital footprint serves as a positive reminder… any great change starts with a single, small action.
Buena Suerta mi Amiga y Continuarse!