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Nursing graduate celebrates valedictorian honour

With classmates, friends, whānau [and a few tears], ākonga [students] celebrated their graduation across the four campuses of the Universal College of Learning [UCOL] Te Pae Mātauranga ki te Ao, in Wairarapa, Manawatū, Horowhenua and Whanganui.

Among Wairarapa graduates was this year’s valedictorian – Chevonne Meier [Tainui-Ngāti Maniapoto], who completed her Bachelor of Nursing. She was “blown away” when she received the call she’d been chosen.

“It didn’t quite click at first. But it’s such an honour to stand up in front of my peers and my whānau. I’m the first one in my family to earn a degree,” she said.

Meier’s path into study is what she calls “a bit of a journey”.

“I started studying in 2018, when I did a pathway course. I did look at other educators, but when I went to their open day the classes were huge, with so many people and I felt out of place. When I went to UCOL Wairarapa it felt intimate and I could have more one-on-one conversations.”

That intimacy was something Meier loved: “We had everyone from kids straight out of high school, to someone who had just become a grandma. We’d study together, all doing late nights in the Hub with our kids and pizza.”

The greatest challenge was “honestly myself – a part of me was asking ‘Do I deserve this? Am I capable of this?’ But other people were like, you’re on the right path, keep going”.

Meier is excited about what’s next. She’s now working as a registered nurse at Te Whare Ahuru, an acute mental health centre and has been accepted into a specialist programme. She’s also doing postgraduate papers in mental health and addiction.

“As Māori, my concept of health is based on hauora and the whole person. So, while I want to move into the intensive care unit [ICU] and surgery departments, I want my foundation in mental health first. There’s not an exact programme for that, so by the time I’m done, I want to have a masters [degree] in mental health, a second masters in acute services, and be a fully trained nurse practitioner in indigenous health.”

Jasmine Groves, UCOL operations lead, said UCOL was delighted with Meier’s success, as well as the accomplishments of all their graduates.

“This is such a special moment for our ākonga – to have their efforts recognised and celebrate all that they have achieved with whānau and friends. It can feel like an ending but it’s actually the opposite. This is us celebrating the beginning of their careers and all that they will go out and do with the skills they have learned.”

Meier used her valedictorian speech to pass on advice to anyone thinking about studying. “If someone like me can do it, so can you. Just get out of your own way. Not only will you make your kids, your whānau proud – you’ll be able to sit in that moment and say, ‘I’m proud of me’.”

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