Once a UOG student janitor, Emanuel Mori went on to champion for a cleaner climate as president of the Federated States of Micronesia
By John Borja
If there is one piece of advice former Federated States of Micronesia President Emanuel “Manny” Mori could impart to the current students of his alma mater, it would be to take up the responsibility of serving the island they are from.
Mori, who served as the president of the FSM from 2007 to 2015, said the knowledge he gained from his time as a student at the University of Guam helped boost his potential to give back to his community.
“UOG played a very critical role in the education and development of [the FSM] — from providing health services to creating more jobs,” Mori said. “When people from our islands earn our college degree, whether from UOG or elsewhere, we have a responsibility to return and help build the nation that raised us.”
This includes the environmental challenges islands face, which was a focal point during Mori’s presidency.
“When people from our islands earn our college degree, whether from UOG or elsewhere,
we have a responsibility to return and help build the nation that raised us.”
– Former FSM President Emanuel Mori
Mori attended UOG from 1969 to 1973 and graduated with a bachelor’s in business management. He was active in campus activities and became the first student from the FSM to be elected to the Student Body Association. As senator, he was responsible for coordinating student life activities, from dances to movie nights to the annual UOG Charter Day.
“There might be different Charter Day activities now, but back then the students loved having picnics. We also had games like climbing coconut trees and husking coconuts. Most of the CHamorus on campus spoke their language, too,” he said.
As a newcomer to Guam, Mori learned a lot about the island from friends he made while staying in the dormitories. Two friends in particular — longtime Guam educator Salvador Avilla and George Chargualaf — often took him out on adventures around the island to experience the community.
To help pay his tuition, he worked as a janitor in the dorms and advanced to supervisory status through the work-study program. The overall experience was a ton of fun, he said.
In academics, Mori said his education from Xavier High School in Chuuk prepared him for the first two years of college classes. The lessons started to become a little difficult afterwards, he admitted.
“I was struggling with finance and accounting because I couldn’t understand it. It wasn’t until I did an internship at a bank that it started to click for me,” he said. “Public speaking was also a difficult one. I wasn’t very good at it. But I enjoyed the class because it was great to see people make enormous improvements.”
Funnily enough, the two types of classes he struggled with ended up being the precursors for his decorated career in banking and politics.
Upon graduating from UOG, he went on to work for the banking industry for 25 years, starting in Guam and Saipan before ultimately moving back home to hold leadership positions in public and private banks.
Then came the call for public service. Mori found himself serving in FSM Congress, which later led him down the path to presidency.
As president, Mori brought environmental concerns and impacts in the four island states to the forefront of global discussions.
During the 62nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2007, Mori pleaded with world leaders to take action in reversing the global trends of pollution to counter climate change. He reiterated this message at the 64th U.N. General Assembly in 2009, noting visible changes in sea-level rise and intensity of storms, and again in 2014 at the 69th General Assembly, when he advocated for immediate action on climate pollutants and voiced support for the U.N.’s proposed and now adopted global Sustainable Development Goals.
“Much of my discussions with the United Nations involved climate change and the concern for our environment,” he said. “The impacts of sea-level rise were visible in some of our surrounding islands. They were eroding. Houses were disappearing.”
His speeches focused on the impacts that Micronesia had already witnessed, such as damages to subsistence agriculture and fishing and threats to endemic marine and terrestrial species.
“The environmental concerns also affected our health,” he said. “Non-communicable diseases were intensifying. We needed to consider how we can improve food security.”
Another pressing issue he raised with the U.N. was the potential of oil seeping from World War II–era ships laying at the bottom of the Chuuk Lagoon. A portion of this ship graveyard is a popular diving destination for tourism, but Mori said he had expressed concern to both the United States and Japan governments about the possibility of oil pollution from cracked tanks over time. This is a matter that is still being looked at today, he said.
Mori’s efforts to bring these issues to a bigger table has since advanced discussions on solutions to protect the FSM’s natural and cultural resources. His presidency was a catalyst to the FSM becoming the first country in Oceania to ratify the UNESCO Underwater Cultural Heritage Convention in 2018, which will help protect and manage the shipwreck sites as well as other underwater artifacts.
The FSM’s signing of the convention has also contributed to Japan, the United States, and Australia starting to assist with oil pollution mitigation in the FSM.
In 2009, UOG conferred unto Mori an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters Degree to recognize his work as a distinguished public servant in the FSM and Micronesian region. He gave the commencement speech that year, staying true to his cause as he challenged students to take on climate change as the priority of their generation.