The shoes were shiny, the nerves controlled, and the lines tight as Queen Elizabeth College's Service Academy celebrated 10 years of akoranga and mahi.
Service Academy director Lance Tahiwi has been there from the beginning, starting with 12 Year 12 students in 2012. The academy now has about 80 students and is offered to all years except Year 11.
Tahiwi was in the navy for 22 years with his trade underwater warfare. He came to Queen Elizabeth from a navy posting at Ōhakea working with NZ Cadet Services after then principal Michael Horton decided to set up the academy.
The academy provides a place to belong and has changed the lives of many students, he says.
Their supplied academy uniform has to be worn properly, there is self-discipline,
structure, the need to turn up on time, and follow instructions. Students are taught general service knowledge such as the 24-hour clock, phonetic alphabet and how to drill and march.
Tahiwi keeps an eye on their progress with NCEA classes, especially English and maths.
The goal is school leavers who are ready for life and to be good members of society. The pinnacle is joining the NZ Defence Force.
There is an emphasis on getting the mind and body fit. The students attend a 12-day NZDF military induction course at Waiouru, with no fizzy, chips or phones.
Being a member of the academy is a chance to grow as an individual, and make changes in their lives and future, he says. It is about taking the hard road.
Tahiwi wants students to be able to look at themselves in the mirror and feel excited about coming to school and to feel good about what they see in the mirror.
Whānau bring students to Queen Elizabeth to go to the academy. He says the kura is slowly gaining good momentum and everyone is paddling in the same direction.
A highlight of last Wednesday's celebrations was for students to do a drill display and a march past. Whānau had not seen their children parade for two years because of Covid-19.
He was proud to have been the director for 10 years. It was humbling as a teacher seeing young people grow.
Neihana Foot is the Service Academy commander. The Year 12 student said he liked the academy's fitness focus such as trying to beat your previous best running time. The 15-year-old also enjoys the academy's discipline.
At the Waiouru training for Service Academy students from the lower North Island, Neihana ran the fastest cross-country time for a male. He was also the top male in the fitness test.
Queen Elizabeth won the assault course trophy for the fastest time through the Waiouru assault course.
The reviewing officer, Captain Quentin Randall from the Royal New Zealand Navy, had travelled from Wellington for the anniversary parade.
He told the students he recalled as a 9-year-old the excitement of nearing his 10th birthday for no particular reason other than double digits.
Double digits is also a significant milestone for the academy and a measure of success.
"It demonstrates that an alternative education pathway to our traditional schooling has been successful and established itself in supporting our rangitahi and the wider community."
Randall said there were often reservations about adopting military-style programmes and it takes a leap of faith on behalf of the Ministry of Education, the school and the community to breathe life into such initiatives.
Service academy programmes are uncomfortable and challenging but they are deliberate and calculated in their delivery.
"When a student has successfully completed the programme they truly understand what it means to have courage, they know what it means to be committed and to have purpose, and they know what it means to be valued as part of a team."
These values provide a strong platform from which to approach life's challenges and succeed.