Thomas's personal statement:
In December of 2014, I wrote a front-page article for the Saipan Tribune about a dumpsite in my home island of Rota that did not comply with environmental standards. After the story's publication, a Department of Environmental and Coastal Quality official asked me for more information and photos so that he can conduct an investigation. The environmental agency issued an administrative order directing that employees be hired and equipment purchased to maintain the dumpsite. Five months later, I wrote a follow up article with the headline "Rota Mayor: DPW 'working hard' to improve landfill." I realized that I could change things around me, especially on my home island. I witnessed firsthand the negative effects of conformity and silence. Because of our small population of approximately 2,500 people, everyone knows each other. However, this cannot be used as an excuse to overlook or condone government inaction, or even corruption.
In middle school, I began to use my writing to combat this culture of complacency on Rota, a place where no newspaper is printed and no reporter resides. In between homework and chores, I maintained a blog featuring stories about community events and the environment. I distributed homemade business cards at school for my friends and their parents to view my blog. I continued my passion for writing when I moved to the neighboring island of Saipan for high school, where I took my first journalism class. I recall giving one of my homemade business cards to a guest speaker - a publisher who encouraged me to write for her newspaper. I accepted her offer and wrote several more stories following the same beat as my blog. From there, I was hired by other local print publications and, more recently, a television station on Guam to report about Saipan events.
Out of the many stories I told, one I will never forget is the story on the plight of Rota farmers because of an upstream farmer's rerouting of water. The headline, "Dry Streams on Rota raise concerns," published in January 2013, gave voice to the farmers. The Coastal Resource Management Office and Department of Land and Natural Resources immediately conducted an investigation. I did not stop inquiring until someone took responsibility for the issue. Eventually, after government officials did their job, water started flowing again.
I found myself in similar environments more often as I earned the trust of editors to pursue tips with more freedom to write. My experience was put to the test recently. After having just attended journalism camp in Minnesota, I returned to an island ravaged by a merciless typhoon – no electricity, water and internet for weeks. I spent many days driving around the island, interviewing families living in shacks and flimsy tents. FEMA aid slowly found its way to families in need, but information was still a scarce resource. Many families like the ones I interviewed had no control over their lives. Emotion floods my thoughts and becomes the core of the story.
I appreciate the change in me over the past three years since I moved from Rota to Saipan, and I know that I can do more things to change not only a public dump or the flow of a stream, but also the world out there. Over the past years I have witnessed events that have not only changed other people's lives, but mine also. Through my writing, which can be found on thomasmanglona.webs.com, I think I made some good changes on my island and school. I hope to make more positive changes in college and beyond.