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President of Palau says GVSU environment allowed him to succeed

  • GVSU President Thomas J. Haas and President Tommy Remengesau
  • President Tommy Remengesau and students from Palau pose next to a traditional woodcarving from the country.
  • President Tommy Remengesau addressed students at a lecture about his nation's role in global warming and other international issues.
  • Students had a chance to ask President Remengesau questions during his presentation.

Posted on November 02, 2017

Tommy Remengesau, president of the Pacific island nation of Palau, told a standing-room-only crowd in the Kirkhof Center that he succeeded because Grand Valley had the perfect learning environment for him. 

"I was away from the island for the first time, but there was diversity here," he said. "And, I must say the cold weather made me study; a warmer place would have offered distractions. And, so I graduated from Grand Valley in 1979."

Remengesau addressed students, faculty and staff members November 1 as part of 3-day trip to campus. He visited West Michigan October 30-November 3 to address the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan about what his country is doing on an international scale about global warming.

He said global warming and preserving the island of Palau for future generations are among his biggest concerns and challenges.

“The issue of global warming is beyond debate and discussion,” he said. “It’s time for leadership and action. Let’s look at the science so we can plan. Let’s look at the cause of the rising sea levels.”

Remengesau is leading a government that is in the center of not only climate change, but U.S.-China relations and outside threats to an ocean economy.

He said while roughly 20,000 people live on the island, more than 200,000 tourists visit each year. He said Palau is a large ocean state with a responsibility to take care of the ocean.

“Big or small, you have a role to play; every nation matters,” he said. “The world relies heavily on marine issues. We can contribute to issues like marine life protection, climate change and sustainability.”

Remengesau said through a special treaty, the U.S. is responsible for the island’s defense and several residents of Palau serve in the U.S. military. He said the island is used for military exercises and the U.S. was recently allowed to install radar on the island because of the intimidating presence of North Korea.