For three years, Northland sisters Alesha and Rhema Norman have been travelling together, staying together and studying together.

Yesterday they graduated together with a Bachelor of Applied Social Service.

It's not uncommon for students to spend long hours studying, but those hours were particularly lengthy for Alesha and Rhema as the pair often woke up at 5am to travel about two hours from Hokianga to NorthTec's Raumanga campus.

They were two of about 230 NorthTec graduands who paraded through Whangarei yesterday.


Rhema and Alesha said sharing that journey made it easier. "We were each other's rock. We knew what each other were going through because we were doing it together.

"Besides my parents, [Alesha] was my biggest supporter and it was always comforting knowing my sister was right there beside me," said Rhema.

"We're quite similar but at the same time we're also different. It's been a blessing studying with her, especially since we're 10 years apart," said Alesha.

Rhema said travelling from further north meant there were often early mornings and late nights. She said sometimes they would stay together overnight at their uncle's house and later on in their degree they stayed with a friend, who Rhema said was like another sister, from their degree.

"By the time we got to class we had already been awake for a while and travelling makes you tired. Sometimes you're sitting in class until 5pm, and then there was extra assignments on top of that so there was a lot of juggling and prioritising," said Rhema.

She said living so far away from home was hard, particularly for Alesha who is a mum-of-four.

"Sometimes we'd stay overnight. That was particularly hard for Alesha because she has her own kids and it was difficult for her being away from them," she said.

Social services is in the sisters' blood. Their father is a counsellor and their mother is a social worker who also completed the same degree at NorthTec a few years ago.

Rhema said she originally wanted to study education but her mother suggested social services would be a good stepping stone so she could learn about behaviour.

Alesha went down the social services path because of her interest in mental health.

Rhema said it was "great" to be graduating with her sister.