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A Hilltopper rules in Zagreb; Los Alamos High grad is new Croatia president

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Conservative candidate Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic talks to the media outside a polling station in Zagreb, Croatia, Sunday, when she was elected president of Croatia. Grabar-Kitarovic graduated from Los Alamos High School as an exchange student in 1986. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

SANTA FE – A Los Alamos High School graduate has grown up to be president — of Croatia.

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic graduated as a Hilltopper in 1986 after a year as an exchange student. On Sunday, she was elected as Croatia’s first female president.

“This sets a new standard for our graduates,” said Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Eugene Schmidt.

Grabar-Kitarovic, 46, described as a conservative populist by the Associated Press, defeated center-left incumbent Ivo Josipovic by a slim margin, with 50.54 percent of the vote.

Schmidt sent a congratulatory email to Grabar-Kitarovic on Monday inviting her to visit Los Alamos whenever she’s back in the United States.

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Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, the new Croatian president, in a yearbook picture from her days at Los Alamos High School.

Los Alamos resident Dorothy Wilson, 89, was Grabar-Kitarovic’s advisor during the new president’s senior year and relayed her thoughts on her former student through superintendent Schmidt.

Wilson “remembers her as very enthusiastic” and “as a student who wanted to learn as much as she could about our culture,” said Schmidt.

The young Croatian student “liked to try all kinds of foods and she was remembered as a fun person and a person who was not shy,” said Schmidt. She often talked to classes about her native country. “Her grades looked quite good,” said Schmidt. “This was a young lady on her way to success.”

Grabar-Kitarovic will served as president of a largely Roman Catholic nation of 4.5 million people which in 1991 declared independence from the former Yugoslavia and is the newest member of the European Union. Croatia’s presidency is a largely ceremonial position, but Gabar-Kitarovic will have influence on foreign policy and serve as head of the army.

She’s a former Croatian ambassador to the United States and has served as diplomatic councilor in the Croatian embassy in Canada, a member of the Croatian parliament, assistant secretary general for Public Diplomacy at NATO and Croatia’s minister of Foreign Affairs.

After high school in Los Alamos she received an M.A. in political science from Croatia’s University of Zagreb. Her thesis was titled “American-Soviet Relations During the Reagan Administration and the End of the Cold War,” according to her biography on the website of Mississippi State University, where she gave a featured 2009 speech.

She was also did a fellowship in international relations at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. as a Fulbright scholar.

Grabar-Kitarovic is married with two children and her interests include literature, education and protection of children, hiking and film, according to on-line sources. She speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese well and has a lesser knowledge of Italian, German and French.

Superintendent Schmidt took pride in the Los Alamos school district’s role in Grabar-Kitarovic’s success. “We are glad to have had an opportunity to play a meaningful part in this young lady’s life,” he said.

Schmidt laughed when asked if he was invited to the inauguration in Zagreb. “I am looking for that invitation,” he said.

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