Nayda Heays is sorry her beloved father won't be at her graduation this week, or see her, as an honoured valedictorian, deliver an address on behalf of fellow EIT graduates.
A huge part of the nurse graduate's life, David Coffin died in January this year.
"I am blessed to be wearing a korowai [cloak] on the day," Nayda says, "and feel part of it will be my dad's arms wrapped around me full of aroha and support."
Husband Andrew, daughters Grace and Phoebe and Nayda's mother Florence Coffin will attend the traditional capping ceremony in Napier's Municipal Theatre. Other whanau are travelling to Hawke's Bay for the occasion - her brothers from Auckland and Wellington and extended whanau from Te Urewera.
Of Tuhoe descent, the family has lived in Napier since Nayda was six.
"It feels like home to me," she says of Hawke's Bay. "Having lived here most of my life, I now respectfully add Ngati Kahungunu to my whakapapa."
It was working as a community health worker and then as a community services manager that stirred Nayda's interest in helping those struggling with health-care issues. Keen to work in areas that addressed inequality and disparities in health services, she enrolled at EIT.
"Bachelor of Nursing practicums opened my eyes to the challenges involved. I still have the same passion but, in reality, I know getting there is much harder than I imagined."
Completing her degree mid-last year, Nayda was accepted on to the Hawke's Bay District Health Board's new graduate programme and now works as a registered nurse in the Hawke's Bay hospital's intensive-care unit.
"It's been a huge learning curve for me," she says. "Every day, when I go to work, I have no idea what I'll be doing or who I'll be looking after. But I feed off that challenge."
Nayda is enjoying the team culture in her workplace and interacting with patients. Her future plan is to study for her Master of Nursing and to put herself in a position of decision-making in her career.
EIT's assistant head of school for nursing, Jennifer Roberts, says Nayda is a role model for anyone considering a career in nursing and particularly for Maori.
An exceptional student, she achieved outstanding academic results while also demonstrating excellence in nursing practice.
"She is a brilliant communicator, conscientious, culturally aware and sensitive to the needs of individuals and their whanau in health-care contexts. During her time at EIT she was a representative on the Bachelor of Nursing student advisory committee, and a member and then leader of the Maori nursing student support group Te Roopu Whaioranga."
Nayda won the 2014 Taradale Rotary Award for Excellence and three scholarships while at EIT.