In her role as New Zealand's trade commissioner to North and East India, Jane Cunliffe needs to be resilient, strong, and have integrity - skills she learned during her school years in Hawke's Bay.

In the years since she graduated from Havelock North's Woodford House, Ms Cunliffe has worked in New York and Milan as New Zealand Consul General/Trade Commissioner, in Suva and Port Moresby, and spent time in Spain running New Zealand's leveraging programme for the America's Cup.

But last month Ms Cunliffe travelled back to Havelock North to be recognised for her contributions at her old school.

Woodford House principal Julie Peterson said Ms Cunliffe was a "remarkable woman", who had gone from Woodford House head prefect, to trade commissioner.

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"Her journey is the journey of somebody who's taken the world".

Ms Cunliffe, who left New Zealand aged 5, arrived at Woodford from Trinidad and Tobago in 1969.

There she played in the first XI hockey team, participated in tennis and drama, and was head prefect in her final year - where "I experienced my first taste of leadership".

Community, resilience, and integrity had been important elements of her time at Woodford, Ms Cunliffe said, and "when I think about how privileged and lucky I have been in my work and life since Woodford, I think so [many] of the life skills began there".

Whether organising events with Elijah Wood or Keisha Castle Hughes to promote New Zealand's film industry, or creating a New Zealand innovation showcase for Prime Minister John Key's recent visit to India, Ms Cunliffe said her skill development "had its seeds at Woodford".

There had been some hard experiences for the international student who only saw her parents during the summer. However the school taught students about community, "looking out for each other, living in a bigger society than our nuclear families".

This was especially true for Ms Cunliffe, who was taken in during school holidays by other families, who "received me as a daughter" when her own parents were thousands of miles away.

During her years at the school, students "had to grow strong and resilient" - through making their own decisions, working hard, and having lights out "just when the novel got exciting".

"Resilience is one of the important traits of leadership and for me the Woodford experience built the foundations of resilience I have drawn on through my life."

Ms Cunliffe said the Manaakitanga of her Woodford family gave her a sense of place, a sense of being and most importantly, of belonging in New Zealand.

"This is important when I reflect that whilst growing up my immediate family focus was outside New Zealand," she said, "and I went on to build a career which involved representing New Zealand as a diplomat internationally."

Since August last year, Ms Cunliffe has worked in India to help New Zealand companies grow "bigger, better, faster".

But recently Ms Cunliffe returned to Hawke's Bay to catch up with her old classmates, visit her old home, and receive the Tempus Award from her old school.

The award, now in its third year, recognises a Woodford Old Girl who has made an innovative contribution in her field, received public recognition, and given back to Woodford House.

As well as recognising their outstanding achievement, Woodford House principal Julie Peterson said Tempus award recipients were great role models for current Woodford students.

Ms Cunliffe showed girls, "if you focus your mind ... you accept and embrace the challenges, step outside your comfort zone,and have fun, you will have incredible success whether its national or international.

"Jane's just a fantastic role model for our young women."

Ms Cunliffe said it felt very special to receive the award, and to join the "distinguished company" of previous recipients.

The inaugural award in 2014 went to actress Dame Kate Harcourt, and in 2015 was awarded to equestrian champion Helen White, OBE.

Receiving the award while surrounded by her classmates, Ms Cunliffe said, "I rather felt I received this symbolically for us all".

As her classmates made various contributions to the world, "from artists to doctors to broadcasters", Ms Cunliffe said it was humbling to be picked for the award this time.