Cheryl Moana Marie is still enough to p' />

She was the "lovely little Maori miss" who captured the musical hearts of millions, and the mere mention of Cheryl Moana Marie is still enough to prompt a melancholic rendition of the homegrown ballad from most Kiwis.

But the woman herself is a far cry from the island sweetheart waiting so patiently on the shore.

Now married, Cheryl Waetford has graduated from the University of Auckland with a bachelors degree in commerce, management and marketing.

And the 48-year-old plans to go on to study for a doctorate in commerce organisation and innovation.

"When people meet me they sometimes expect me to sing. They seem to think our family breeds singers, but I'm the only one who can't sing."

Mrs Waetford began her degree 30 years ago but dropped out because of other commitments.

She decided to return two years ago and graduated last week. "I think I must have set a record between starting a finishing a degree. It's been hard work but well worth it," she said.

Mrs Waetford was just 10 when big brother John Rowles wrote the song that took him to fame and etched her name on the memories of a generation.

It was a hit in the United States, Australia, Hawaii and here, and sold more than one million copies worldwide.

But Mrs Waetford admitted there was a time she would have done anything to get rid of the song.

"I was very shy and the song brought a lot of attention," she said.

"A lot of it was positive because people appreciated what it meant, but there was also negativity from some people who seemed to want to pull it down. It took me a lot of years to get used to that." That tall poppy attitude is something Mrs Waetford still struggles to understand.

But she says she has made her peace with the song and enjoys listening to it from time to time.

"It's only in my later years that I've been able to appreciate the song," said Mrs Waetford, a mother of two.

"It struck a chord and is part of the Kiwi fabric."

Rowles flew over from his home in Australia to see her graduate.

"School was never my thing," he said "I got my education going round the world. So this degree makes me all the more proud and hopefully it will continue with Cheryl's children."