Graduation - it's a whānau affair

By Leo Horgan

Gaining a degree was a family affair for Te Awatea Rangiuaia-Carter, who was one of five from the same whanau to graduate on the same day, all with degrees in education from the University of Auckland.

Te Awatea and her mother Philomena Pai donned gowns and graduated side-by-side in the University of Auckland’s Autumn Graduation today – Te Awatea with a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and Philomena with a Bachelor of Education Teaching Huarahi Māori Specialisation.

They were joined by Te Awatea’s cousins, Byron Belk and Mark Whetu Cameron, who studied with their aunt Philomena in the Huarahi Specialisation and Cydel Peters who completed a Bachelor of Physical Education.

“For the first two years Te Awatea and I travelled in every day together. We have a very strong mother daughter relationship and are very close,” Philomena says.

Coming to University was a second chance for both mother and daughter, who live in Titirangi. Philomena began her degree 14 years ago, deferring to take care of her ill son before embarking on a career in hospitality.

Te Awatea left high school half way through seventh form (Year 13) and also worked in hospitality before deciding to become a teacher. She entered the Faculty of Education and Social Work under the Undergraduate Targeted Admission Schemes (UTAS), which supports equity students who do not hold the necessary entry requirements for university study.

“I felt really out of place in my cohort being the only self-identifying Māori,” Te Awatea says.

“Being on campus with my mum kept me going through the beginning of my degree. Having whanau around me definitely helped with my negative feelings and opinions of myself and study.”

Te Awatea also credited her mum for inspiring her to do her best.

“She encouraged me to create a lifestyle where financial struggle was not the norm. I realised that by getting a higher education I could pursue this goal for myself and for my whanau.”

Philomena had high praise for the Huarahi Māori programme. For fluent speakers of te reo Māori, the degree qualification provides specialist skills to teach in both Māori medium and mainstream primary and intermediate schools.

“The difference between mainstream and Te Huarahi Māori is the whanaungatanga that is apparent so there is always a friendly face on campus,” Philomena says.

“I truly believe that without my whanau around me and the incredible support from the Huarahi Māori lecturers I wouldn’t have completed my degree and would be back working in hospitality.”

Philomena is now a teacher at Prospect School in Glen Eden and Te Awatea teaches at an early childhood centre in Mt Eden.

“I love my job and am having the absolute time of my life,” Te Awatea says.