At its annual conference in Washington, D.C., the Council for Opportunity in Education awarded the 2023 TRIO Family Achievement Award to Surangel S. Whipps Jr., the President of the Republic of Palau, and his wife, First Lady Valerie Ngereblungt Remengesau Whipps. Both participated in the Upward Bound program at Palau Community College.
Before his career in politics, President Whipps transformed a small family business with 50 employees into a company with 600 employees. He served two terms as a senator in the Palau National Congress before being elected president in 2021. His wife, the First Lady, has been a strong advocate for justice, assisting domestic violence survivors, and combating smoking among young people. Together, the couple has four children.
“This award recognizes that participating in TRIO not only has effects on an individual’s trajectory but also impacts entire families,” said 2022-2023 COE Board Chair Joseph R. Givens, who presented the award. “President and First Lady Whipps recognize how critical Upward Bound was, not just in preparing them for college, but in establishing a path toward the leadership roles they occupy now.”
President Whipps began his remarks by explaining that the Republic of Palau comprises 340 islands, slightly smaller than Guam, located about 500 miles east of the Philippines. He explained that he was in the second Upward Bound class at Palau Community College, which was then called Micronesian Occupational College. He and his wife went on to complete undergraduate degrees, and President Whipps earned an MBA from UCLA.
He mentioned that his wife Valerie recalled that Upward Bound was more than just an academic program to her. “It really gave her the motivation and the confidence to apply for college,” President Whipps said. “It was really Upward Bound that provided the tools and the environment that allowed us to flourish.”
Before concluding his remarks, he shared a story about a mythical legend of Palau, a bird that was said to bring light to lead people home, whether fishermen who had lost their way at night or children who had strayed too far after dark.
He presented retiring COE President Maureen Hoyler with an artistic rendering of the legend in honor of her 42 years of service to TRIO.