Twenty-four people in academic robes - many also wearing korowai, or traditional cloaks - proudly marched through Whangārei yesterday on their way to be capped.

They were teaching and business course graduands of University of Auckland's Tai Tokerau campus, including some who had gained their Bachelor of Education (Primary) in the Huarahi Māori stream for people proficient in te reo.

They are now qualified to teach the Māori language at mainstream, bilingual and full immersion schools.

Of the 24 who graduated, 19 already have jobs lined up or are in work.


Among them were two outstanding Huarahi Māori students, now graduates, Celia Paul and Tamati Rakena.

Outstanding teaching students, Tamati Rakena (left) and Celia Paul ready to march. Photo / John Stone
Outstanding teaching students, Tamati Rakena (left) and Celia Paul ready to march. Photo / John Stone

Paul finished last year as a top student, on top of the extra achievement of having two babies during the course of her study.

Rakena is one of only 30 Māori and Pasifika students around New Zealand to receive a Kupe Scholarship for young leaders in 2018. Recipients of the annual award have course fees paid, receive a $15,000 study allowance, professional mentoring and help with finding a job.

But while yesterday was the culmination of a personal education journey for Rakena, it signalled the start of an even longer one. The Kupe Scholarship has enabled him to continue studying at masters degree level.

''For me this bachelor degree means the beginning of a new era in our family. I'm the first person in my whanau to go on to graduate at tertiary level,'' he said.

''I want to be a good example to my people. I want to show my whanau they are all able to take the same opportunity.''

Rakena (of Ngāti Hine and Te Rarawa hapu) said he wanted to eventually work on Māori education policy and its implementation rather than in the classroom.

''I'm into lifting the standard of Māori education and therefore Māori achievement in all aspects of life.


''Teaching is of course very important but, in my mind, I think we need even greater change. I can change 25 lives a year in a classroom or I can aim to change 25,000 through working in policy.

''For me, the Masters in Education is about researching what's best for my people.''

Yesterday's procession marched from Laurie Hall Park to Forum North where the age-old capping and conferring of degrees ceremony took place.

Dean of the Faculty of Education and Social Work, Associate Professor Mark Barrow, read out the names of the graduands while Chancellor of the University of Auckland, Scott St John, conferred the degrees.

The guest speaker was Associate Professor Melinda Webber who spoke about her research, which is centred around positive Māori identity and achievement.