From Allendale to the Pacific

GVSU alumnus, president of Palau to speak on campus

By Tylee Bush | 10/30/17 1:17am

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GVL / Courtesy - Mark Schaub That carving is a piece that is now on display in corridor of Lake Ontario Hall. It’s a Palaun folklore carving, and is a donation from President Remengesau to GVSU.

Grand Valley State University will welcome back a Laker who has had a world-changing experience. Tommy Remengesau, a GVSU alumnus who is now president of the Republic of Palau, will be visiting campus Wednesday, Nov. 1, for a motivational and informational presentation from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center Pere Marquette Room. 

Remengesau was just like many other students at GVSU: He resided in the Ravines Apartments and enjoyed the traditional Laker experience. Now, he is the leader and president of Palau, a country southeast of the Philippines made up of 300 islands. 

The Pacific islands of Palau are in the midst of several major potential conflicts, including terrorism, food and resource issues, climate change dangers, and issues with poaching. In fact, Palau is a direct target of climate change. The rising sea levels from melting polar glaciers have threatened the very existence of the nation. 

Remengesau received a prestigious role at the 2015 Paris accord for his leadership in the topic of climate change. This tough geopolitical position requires significant responsibility and difficult decision-making from Remengesau. 

Mark Schaub, chief international officer at the Padnos International Center and associate professor of writing, has played a key role in organizing Remengesau’s campus visit this semester. Schaub loves supporting international learning experiences for students and colleagues. 

“I get to see firsthand the positive impact that international education has on individual lives and careers and to see that Lakers are everywhere around the world,” he said.

Schaub believes the timing of Remengesau’s visit is crucial. 

“Despite being president of a small nation of 21,000 people, the decisions (Remengesau) needs to make on behalf of his countrymen are very significant and fraught with potential risk,” he said. “This isolated island nation is a player on the global stage.” 

While it may be unknown to Americans, Palau is a key player the U.S long-term national defense strategy for current and potential threats in the Asian-Pacific region. In 2016, Remengesau received worldwide recognition with the Peter Benchley Ocean Award for Excellence in National Stewardship after Palau’s aggressive response to illegal fishing in Palauan waters. 

He has instilled a systematic approach for his country to search out poachers, and this has become a renowned model for others to use in protecting the oceans. Palau can serve as a example of how a small nation can actually be an important player in large-scale, global issues.

Remengesau graduated from GVSU in 1979 and returned to give the commencement address to GVSU graduates at the December 2002 ceremony. Former GVSU President Mark Murray awarded him an honorary doctorate degree at the ceremony. Schaub is excited that 15 years later, Remengesau will be returning to campus to witness the changes and growth in the university and inspire the GVSU community once again.

Schaub described the event as “an informal discussion with a fellow Laker, who happens to rub shoulders with world leaders on a regular basis,” and he highly recommends that students, faculty and community members alike make an effort to take part in this cultural and inspirational opportunity, which is LIB 100- and 201-approved.

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