Kaitaia man Joe Bellass made good use of the opportunity to speak for students from around the Upper North Island at the Open Polytechnic's Auckland graduation ceremony.
Mr Bellass, who graduated with a Bachelor of Information Technology, said he never thought he would reach this taumata (this level) after leaving school at a young age.
After starting a family, he decided to "get back on the waka" for the betterment of himself, his three children and his people.
He was the first in his immediate whānau to obtain a degree.
His study journey and qualification, he added, were the stepping stone he needed to pursue his goal of inspiring young Māori, and others who missed their study opportunity, to learn more about IT.
The flexible online and distance learning environment provided by Open Polytechnic had allowed him to work towards his qualification without having to give up fulltime work, enabling him to meet his financial responsibilities.
He also had some advice for his peers.
"To my fellow graduands, go hard, be innovative, be humble, and never be deterred from reaching your goals," he said.
"To achieve this tohu, sacrifices would have been made by your families, so share this experience with them and show them what the sacrifices they made was worth."
Meanwhile, Open Polytechnic chief executive Dr Caroline Seelig said the flexibility of distance study meant the organisation's mainly adult graduates were able to apply their learning directly into their careers.
"As they upskill themselves to progress in their current career, or pursue a new direction, our graduates are also benefiting employers and the wider community and economy," she said.
"Many thousands of Open Polytechnic students and alumni are making a difference in workplaces throughout New Zealand and in a wide variety of careers."
At the Auckland ceremony, 170 students graduated with a variety of diplomas and degrees in information technology, early childhood education, business, engineering technology, accounting, information and library studies, health and human behaviour, child and adolescent psychology and applied science.