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Graduation day stirs emotions

Saturday 22 October 2022 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Education, National

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Graduation day stirs emotions
Ana File Heather, her husband Damien and two sons, Geoff Halston and his wife Olivia Heather Halston. SUPPLIED/22101816

Endings and beginnings, the nostalgia – wistful affection for the past, the friendships, the regrets, the relief and excitement, all came to the surface when a group of Cook Islanders graduated in New Zealand this week.

One hundred and forty-nine graduates including Cook Islanders from Rarotonga, crossed the stage at the Otago Polytechnic’s Auckland international campus graduation ceremony at the Auckland Town Hall on Monday, celebrating success and resilience.

Miriama Graham, Geoff Halston, Ana File Heather, Addrienne Hosking-Tinirau, Mii Maui, Teautoa Peua and Mereani (Ani) Talbot were some of the Cook Islanders who graduated at the ceremony.

The graduates persevered through their studies during the harrowing and uncertain times of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some had taken up the challenge of hitting the books again after decades of absence from studies.

For some, graduation day stirred emotions of elation, sadness and reflection.

They share their stories with Cook Islands News to inspire others take on the journey of tertiary education.

Geoff Halston’s graduation was a poignant time of reflection which brought on emotions of happiness and sadness.

Back when he finished high school, Halston was accepted to the Auckland University of Technology on the pathway to a Bachelor of Business, but things didn’t quite go according to plan.

“We didn’t have a lot of money, but my mother would always help to get me to classes, give me bus and lunch money, and ask how my studies were going,” shares Halston.

During his second year of studies he became a father for the first time when his eldest son Tempest was born.

“I made the decision to defer study, with the intention to complete my degree later, as I needed to work to provide for my young family.

“Little did I know it would take the help of Thomas and Juanita Wynne, and 20 years later to revisit University studies.”

Halston graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Management with Distinction, and is in his final year of an Executive Masters in Business Administration (EMBA) at Massey University.

His parents and their siblings migrated from the Cook Islands in the early 70s to Auckland, New Zealand to access job opportunities.

Both his parents had worked in factories in Otahuhu. 

“I sat in the ceremony acknowledging their hard work, courage and sacrifice for a better life for myself and my siblings,” says Halston.

Sadness and tears set in during the ceremony when he reflected on his late mother’s hard work and sacrifices.

“She wasn’t there to witness it, but I know she would have been proud.”

Happiness eventually set in, also for fellow graduating Cook Islanders, including his sister-in-law Ana File Heather.

“I was just as proud as the other graduates, as I understood the sacrifice, frustration and sense of accomplishment it takes to study, especially when juggling so many other commitments.

“I was happy my wife was there to witness the occasion, for her contribution, example and motivation to keep going, when sometimes studying got tough.”

Crossing the floor to receive his degree, he took a deep breath. “Joy and weightlessness came over me as I waved to the crowd through the bright stage lights, and I thought – I finally did it.”

A sense of gratitude also flooded in, thankfulness for his parents, aunts and uncles, Ui Tupuna, his wife Olivia, in-laws Nia and Yvonne Heather, and family, Thomas and Juanita Wynne, fellow graduates, work mentors Joe Ngamata and Florence Epati, Tumuora CrossFit family, and to everyone who had encouraged him in one way or another throughout his journey. 

“I didn’t achieve this on my own, but on the shoulders of these giants. 

“I hope to inspire my sons, family and fellow Cook Islanders to pursue academics and lifelong learning, to grow our potential,” says Halston.


Cook Islands Consulate in New Zealand Keu Mataroa with Otago Polytechnic graduates, Marisa Newman, Mii Maui, Cook Islands Air New Zealand country manager Addrienne Hosking-Tinirau, and Teautoa Peua. SUPPLIED/22101801

After 30 years, Air New Zealand country manager Addrienne Hosking-Tinirau also returned to higher education studies, graduating with a Bachelor of Applied Management.

In the late 80s, she migrated to Australia from Rarotonga with her family.

Having finished school in Year 11, in the “land of many opportunities”, her desire to leave school and get a job in the hospitality industry was a priority.

Looking back, Hosking-Tinirau says, “I would never have thought I’d accomplish a university degree. Thirty years on, it’s become a reality through my life experiences during my career at Air New Zealand.”

Walking into the Auckland Town Hall with fellow graduates to the sound of bagpipes, stirred a wave of emotions.

“I felt the presence of my late mum. It was that moment when I thought ... woohoo I did it Mum, what next.”

Mereani (Ani) Talbot was proud to know she was among other Cook Islanders who travelled to Auckland from Rarotonga, when she graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Management,

“It was inspiring to be among others who have endeavoured along the pathway of learning, this is a pathway for me to do further learning in a Masters in Human Resources,” says Talbot.

“Walking the street in town was an experience.

“This has given me the inspiration and empowerment to do more learning and I really enjoyed this course, this is just the beginning.”

Businesswoman Ana File Heather graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Management, she attended the ceremony with her husband Damien and their children.

She began studies before the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s been a long journey, as I had started studies before Covid, and I struggled to find the time to complete it while dealing with the economic fatigue the border closures brought,” shares Heather.

With support from Otago she “finally” completed her Bachelors in June.

“Being officially capped as a graduate has inspired me to continue studying, and even ignited the study bug in my family who attended the ceremony.”

Otago Polytechnic chief executive Dr Megan Gibbons in a media release states: “It was exciting to be celebrating success after all the challenges of the past couple of years. Those challenges had been particularly difficult for our international students.”

“The resilience that has been demonstrated by our learners, their families, and the wider community should be congratulated.”

Graduation day was a chance to acknowledge that resilience and see what success meant, adds Gibbons.

“We will acknowledge the transformation that happens with education. The closer you get to your purpose in life, the more energy you will get from it.

“It’s not about following convention, but rather finding your passion in life, and going in that direction.

“As you choose your path, follow your passion. Get the support you need and create your own destiny.”  

The graduates completed a range of qualifications through the Auckland International Campus, Capable NZ, and the Dunedin campus.