A graduation ceremony for NZMA’s Health and Early Childhood Education students was not only a celebration of outstanding academic achievement – but also a unique way to honour diversity and inclusiveness at NZMA Manukau.
Hundreds of family members, friends and supporters packed out the Papakura Marae on Friday July 6, to cheer on the 130 students graduating with certificates and diplomas from Levels 3, 4 and 5. Prianka Singh was amongst them, eager to see her mum Manjula receive her Diploma in Early Childhood Education Level 5.
“I feel really proud of mum – and excited too, as it’s our first time on a marae. I love the diversity and cultural perspective of NZMA Manukau. It’s really good that students have the opportunity to learn about other cultures,” Prianka said.
Though held in a traditionally Maori setting, the event had input from a wide range of ethnicities. The karanga (call) was performed by Fiji-Indian NZMA tutor Kamlesh Chand, and during the powhiri (welcome) Muneer Ghias – a Level 3 Health student from Afghanistan – was one of the speakers. Samoan and Tongan traditional dance performances were other highlights.
Campus Manager Bijay Ratu has had a lifelong connection with the Papakura Marae and believes hosting graduation ceremonies there brings a cultural warmth and richness to celebrations.
“To have Kamlesh call us onto the marae is very unusual because Maori is not her first language – it’s actually a real privilege. And I am so proud of Muneer, for having the courage to stand up and speak on our behalf in his language. I grew up on this marae and I have never heard that language spoken here before, so I really thank him for that,” Bijay said.
“These graduations provide an opportunity for everyone, whether they are Maori or non-Maori, to experience a powhiri. It’s part of our curriculum to learn cultural values, and all our students come here to do workshops on the Treaty of Waitangi. It’s really nice to bring them back here to celebrate their achievements at graduation.”
MC for the event, Head of Faculty for ECE, Doreen Chandra, said she was extremely proud to be presenting the graduands with their qualifications.
“Today is a well deserved day of celebration for you all. We are very proud of what you have achieved and look forward following your future achievements,” she said. “Your NZMA qualification will have a lifelong impact on you, your family and your community. It will add real value to your life, and the lives of those around you.”
Doreen encouraged graduands to keep seeking opportunities to upskill.
“Many of you are graduating today with your first tertiary qualification – but you must not rest on your laurels. Keep making the most of the opportunities presented to you to learn and grow. Further study is inevitable in this ever-changing world.”
The unique ceremony also provided a platform for graduating students to share and reflect on their NZMA experiences. Fisili Falealeniu was presented with her Level 4 Health qualification and made an inspiring speech about the challenges NZMA had helped her to overcome in order to achieve her goal. A solo mum with seven kids, Fisili had been out of the workforce for 14 years, before enrolling.
“Coming to NZMA has been the best decision I’ve made since I stopped working. My class and tutors were so kind, and I felt welcomed and part of the family. I looked forward to coming to class every day and shocked myself at the grades I was able to achieve,” she said. “Today is the last day of class for many of us, but it is also the start of a whole new chapter of learning. Whatever it is that you want to do, or become, it starts with you. NZMA did it for me, and they can do it for anyone.”
Georgia Mcauley was graduating with her Diploma in Early Childhood Education Level 5 and spoke to the crowd about the positive and lifechanging experience of being an NZMA student.
“I have had an amazing experience here. I’ve learnt to set and achieve my goals, had the opportunity to work in an early childhood centre, and now have a clear direction for my future. NZMA has pushed my boundaries and allowed me to do things I never thought that I could do. The lecturers have guided and supported me and pushed me to be the best that I can. I would like to thank NZMA for all the support and encouragement you have given me to succeed and achieve my goals.”
After all the qualifications were presented, speeches made, and dances performed, NZMA’s freshest group of graduates were finally able to kick up their heels and celebrate their success with their biggest supporters – classmates, tutors, family and friends. And the Papakura Marae was the perfect place to do it.