More than half a century lies between them, but the youngest and oldest students graduating from the University of Auckland today share something in common - they both have a secret.

For 18-year-old Marieke Brinkman, keeping her age a secret was sometimes the best way to avoid awkward situations at university.

"When people found out, they'd say, 'No you're not.' I've pulled out my licence more than once to show them," she laughed.

"I didn't have an issue telling people, but I just didn't supply the information on my own.


"The annoying part was when people would find out how old you were and then treat you differently because of it."

The teenager will today graduate with a bachelor of commerce with a double major in marketing and management. She is a former pupil of Tyndale Park Christian School, in South Auckland, which has a unique curriculum that lets students go through each grade level at their own pace.

Miss Brinkman managed to achieve all her NCEA credits by the age of 16 - finishing high school at the same time as older sister Georga, who is now a 21-year-old studying to be a nurse.

Miss Brinkman, who also attended summer school twice to finish her degree about six months early, is now weighing up whether to find a job or to go back to university.

"I'm just exploring both paths at the moment because I've got so many options. I think that's what was awesome about doing it so young - I'm done and I don't feel the pressure."

For 75-year-old Fa'afua Leavasa-Tautolo, the secret she has been keeping from many of her friends and extended family will today be revealed.

The great-grandmother of three has been studying fulltime towards a bachelor of education for the past three years - something only her immediate family and close friends have known. "I deliberately withheld telling anybody and so we'll be having a quiet celebration. I just didn't want to make a big fuss about it. I just like getting on with it."

Mrs Leavasa-Tautolo was born and raised in Samoa and hails from the village of Vaiala.


In the early 1950s, she came to New Zealand on a government scholarship and attended St Mary's Diocesan School, in Stratford, before going to New Plymouth Girls High.

She did a partial science degree at Victoria University before having a family and then went on to do teacher training and work in education administration.

She said her biggest hope was that people of all ages and particularly women saw her story and were inspired to go back to study.

"It'll be nice to motivate some of my generation and younger friends to pick up studies.

"Life is about learning and you need to pick up something you're really interested in.

"I want them to know there is no time limit.

"Fill whatever time you have with positive learning steps."

Graduation day
• 3185 - pupils will graduate from the University of Auckland today.
• 126 - doctorates.
• 732 - arts degrees (the faculty with the most qualifications).
• 290 - people receiving more than one qualification.
• 1 - person will receive four qualifications today.
• 346 - Maori and Pasifika graduates.