Māori alumni announced as 2018 top graduates

By Jessica Tyson

Three Māori alumni have been named among the top 40 most outstanding young graduates at the University of Auckland, including Black Fern and high school teacher Eloise Blackwell, filmmaker Todd Karehana and artist Shannon Te Ao.

The list recognises 40 young alumni making a significant contribution to their field and community drawn from the categories of business leaders, influencers, performers, entrepreneurs, humanitarians, and disruptors and innovators.

Given the university graduates some 10,000 students each year making the list is a significant achievement.

Eloise Blackwell. Source: University if Auckland

Eloise Blackwell

Blackwell, of Ngāti Whātua and Ngāti Wai, graduated with a Bachelor of Physical Education in 2013 and teaches Physical Education and Health at Epsom Girls Grammar.

She said being considered in the top 40 was a shock “because I kind of consider myself as the average teacher who plays rugby part-time.  I didn’t consider myself to be equal to the other candidates who were given the award too, so it’s pretty cool.”

She says it’s a full-on schedule managing teaching while also playing professional rugby.

“It’s something that I’ve learnt to balance right from when I was at uni.  I was juggling full-time study as well as provincial rugby and provincial netball at the same time.  So it’s making sure I find time to do everything that’s needed of me.”

She says being a teacher allows her to inspire the next generation of sportswomen to wear the silver fern.

“I always have kids coming up to me and asking me about my rugby and telling me all the dreams that they have, and its really cool that we’ve got young girls that do aspire," she says.

“It’s cool for girls to know now that it is achievable because of the changes, benefits that women are getting now in terms of pay equity and being recognised and acknowledged for being at that elite level.”

Todd Karehana. Photo source: University of Auckland

Todd Karehana

Karehana, of Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Awa and Te Arawa, says he’s humbled to be chosen as a top 40 graduate.

“I never expected it, considering I'm just living my life, following my passion as a writer and director for screen.”

He says it's important for Māori, who come from poor backgrounds and with some form of trauma in their childhood, to see people just like them being celebrated for following their dreams.

“Too often, we are told that spaces, places, career types, and ways of living aren't meant for us, but that's kaka and the world would benefit immensely from having more Māori engaged in all aspects of life and society.”

He says his upbringing has been the most formative influence on his journey as a filmmaker.

“I was always someone that would sit and listen to my mum and her friends chatting over tea and biscuits, and so I'm quite used to watching people, trying to understand their situation, and then I'd make connections between who they are and what they were going through.”

Karehana is currently heading to Toronto for the ImagineNATIVE film festival where his latest short film, My Brother Mitchell will have its international premiere.

As well as meeting indigenous filmmakers, funders and other New Zealand creatives, Karehana is trying to get a queer, P.O.C television series into development and working on his feature film script debut.

“I can't say too much about them now, but they promise to be bold, evocative, emotional and unique.”

Shannon Te Ao

Shannon Te Ao . Source: University of Auckland.

Artist Shannon Te Ao, of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, holds a Bachelor and a Masters of Fine Arts from Elam.

He has established a body of work using live performance-based practice and moving image installation that address aspects of colonial trauma while reflecting on universal human refrains of love, loss and alienation.

In recent years his works have featured nationally and internationally within a range of significant exhibition platforms.

Te Ao was awarded the Walters Prize, arguably New Zealand’s most prestigious contemporary art award for his work, two shoots that stretch far out and okea uruotia (never say die), in 2016.