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“This is our big moment where we can demand that they really listen to us,” Ms. Rolland said.

Young Mexicans make up the largest age group of voters and the largest segment of the unemployed. The country has increased the number of schools and is slowly making it more possible for children to go to high school. But it has failed to offer jobs for the group that will influence the nation in decades to come.

Educated youths seek jobs

Authorities here repeatedly warned of drug cartels feeding off of an estimated 8.6 million that fall into a category people call “ni-nis,” or “neither-nors,” young people who neither go to school nor find legitimate jobs.

The educated struggle to find well-paying jobs and sometimes any job at all.

Jessica Mejia, a 23-year-old from the central city of Tulancingo, said she studied for five years to get her law degree at a local university and has worked at two small firms that paid about $430 a month.

Her best job so far was with a government agency that defends women’s rights. It paid her about $850 a month. But the contract was only for six months and she had to travel every day to rural towns in the state of Hidalgo to meet with domestic violence victims, paying for her own gas, food and sometimes lodging. She said she has spent eight months seeking work.

“It’s so frustrating. I’ve run into so many problems: that I’m too young, that I’m a woman,” she said. “Companies are afraid to hire young people. They have told me, ‘I can’t offer you this job because it doesn’t pay much and as soon as you find something better, you’ll leave.’ “

A month ago, people thought Mr. Pena Nieto’s visit to the elite Ibero-American University in the wealthy Santa Fe District was going to be one more perfectly staged appearance by the candidate who, at the time, held a lead of about 20 points in opinion polls.

Instead, chants of “get out” resonated throughout the student plaza.

His party’s ham-fisted attempt to dismiss the protest enraged the students. Mr. Pena Nieto said the demonstration was not genuine, and PRI President Pedro Joaquin Coldwell suggested the protesters were not even enrolled in the college.

That night, Televisa ran a segment that did not include the students’ side of the story. The next morning, a national newspaper and its sister publications ran a front-page story saying Mr. Pena Nieto’s visit had been a “success” despite a “boycott.”

Using Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, students launched a social-media campaign, demonstrating that they were in fact just students who thought a return of the old party threatens the ideals of a generation raised on the hope of democratic change.

Demonstrators uploaded an Internet video showing 131 people holding their school IDs while reading from a statement lambasting the politicians and media coverage that followed.

Soon activists at universities across the country symbolically joined the movement by waving banners proclaiming, “I am 132.” Tens of thousands gathered for marches and meetings in the streets of Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey.

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