Next King of Spain: Alumnus Prince Felipe
June 17, 2014 – The Georgetown alumnus who will become King Felipe VI of Spain this week played squash with history professor John McNeill and exhibited both leadership and humility during his time on campus.
Prince Felipe Juan Pablo Alfonso de Todos los Santos de Borbón y Grecia graduated with a master’s in international relations from the university’s School of Foreign Service (SFS) in 1995.
“I think one of the most important qualities of a leader is that she or he listens,” says Eusebio Mujal-Leon, associate professor of government in Georgetown College and author of several books on Spanish and Cuban politics. “In all of my dealings with the future king of Spain, I found him to be a careful listener, someone who was obviously very smart but who also asked very good questions. …He will do a great job as king of Spain.”
The prince’s father, Juan Carlos I, announced earlier this month that he was abdicating the throne in favor of his son.
Named the Prince of Asturias at the tender age of 9, Prince Felipe was born in Madrid, the third son of the king and his wife, Queen Sofia.
After military training and college at the Autonomous University of Madrid, he came to Georgetown for SFS’s Master of Science in Foreign Service (MSFS) Program.
“All of us at MSFS are truly excited that Prince Felipe is becoming king of Spain,” said MSFS director Anthony Arend (SFS’80). “Felipe is a great gentleman and has been a constant supporter of Georgetown. We are delighted that he has been able to serve as an honorary member of the MSFS board of advisors.”
After graduation, the prince participated in and contributed to the deliberations of the Georgetown Leadership Seminar, a premier executive education program conducted by SFS annually, on several occasions as well as attended other events.
“Through his service both within Spain and across the global stage, His Royal Highness has distinguished himself as a leader dedicated to the vibrancy and health of his nation and its people,” said Georgetown President John J. DeGioia.
“He demonstrated extraordinary insight into the dynamics shaping Spain today and an energized vision for its future,” DeGioia says, “one built upon his nation’s historical strengths and characterized by an innovative and future-looking spirit.”
In 1997, Endesa, S.A., a Spanish company, established the Prince of Asturias Chair in Spanish Studies in the School of Foreign Service’s BMW Center for German and European Studies as part of an ongoing program to promote Spanish culture in academia.
The gift supports the appointment of leading scholars at Georgetown and provides a focus for programs and activities in Washington that enhance U.S.-Spanish relations.
McNeill faced off with the prince on the squash court.
“Partway through the semester we learned that we both enjoyed squash,” the professor explains. “We began to play over at Yates, with the unusual wrinkle that his two bodyguards watched our matches. They stood looking down upon us, as inconspicuously as gray-business-suited men can in a college gym.”
The professor added that he was “particularly concerned that I not accidentally crack him on the head with my racquet. He was an excellent squash player, with a long reach and deft touch.”
Maria Pinto Carland, a former MSFS director, said that Felipe was a serious student with a good sense of humor.
“He was well liked, and remains in touch with a number of his classmates, several of whom attended his wedding [to now Princess Letizia],” Pinto Carland said.
His classmates found him to be both admirable and humble, including Jonathan Baliff (G’95), now senior vice president and chief financial officer of Bristow Group Inc. in Houston.
“Although we knew Felipe was, well, Prince Felipe, he was from the very beginning, just another one of our classmates,” Baliff says, adding that he wasn’t well known then in Washington, D.C., and could walk around unnoticed. “But principally it was because … that is how Felipe wanted to be treated. Like me, he was a former military officer trying to expand his horizons and layer new knowledge over his initial international capabilities.”
Baliff, who was in the U.S. Air Force for a decade before attending Georgetown, also noted that his princely friend “has been an outstanding alumni of MSFS, and stays in touch with many of his former classmates these past 20 years.”
John Bailey, professor emeritus in SFS and the government department says Prince Felipe did a tutorial with him on Latin American politics.
“He was very interested in reaching a good level of understanding about institutions and policy problems,” Bailey says. “I saw a seriousness of purpose, along with a good sense of humor.”