"I am privileged to have it - it's such an honour," says Te Ariki Turanga, 18.
Te Ariki is talking of being named Tongariro School's Dux for 2020 at a prizegiving ceremony where the Year 13 student also walked away with an array of other prizes.
She won two Services Academy awards: the Director's Award and the Penrose Award, and was also top in her Māori and sports leadership classes.
In addition, she was awarded Waikato University's $10,000 Te Ara Whānui scholarship for students who have achieved excellence in the Māori world which was presented to her at the prizegiving by Keith Buntting of Waikato University. Te Ariki also won the Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board scholarship of $800.
Te Ariki, who is of Ngati Hikairo ki Tongariro and Tainui descent, is from the Tūrangi area but only transferred to Tongariro School from St Joseph's Māori Girls' College in Napier at the beginning of this year. It's a decision she has not regretted.
As well as taking NCEA level three English, te reo Maori, physics, maths and sports leadership, Te Ariki was also a member of the school's Services Academy, a military-style training academy which is held every Monday.
After lockdown she was also made a sports leader and asked to take on the mantle of head girl, something Te Ariki says she initially felt awkward about.
"My goal to come to Tongariro School was to enjoy being home, it's just familiar and having my family in close proximity to me. So when I was offered the role of head girl I declined it because I wanted my other friends to get it because they had done the hard yards. I didn't want to come across as taking that opportunity away when they should be getting it but in the end we and one of my closest friends ended up doing a dual partnership so it kind of worked out in the end."
Te Ariki's favourite subjects this year were te reo Māori, which was done by distance learning, and the Services Academy which opened her eyes to different vocational options and also led to her attending the RNZAF's School to Skies programme at Whenuapai in July.
"My whole life I've been absorbed in STEM (science, technology, maths) subjects and that's what I was used to but Services Academy gave me the opportunity to know that there's more out there. I enjoyed it because it helped me realise other skill sets I had other than my STEM subjects."
Next year she intends to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree at Waikato University majoring in te reo Māori and minoring in Māori education.
"I haven't really thought ahead [about a career] but I just aspire to continue with my Māori because I've always been passionate about it. I aspire to come home one day bringing back my qualification, share my skills with my whānau and family and friends."
Te Ariki says she never set herself the goal of being dux because she hadn't considered she was capable of it until her teachers this year encouraged her to aspire to it. She was grateful for the support of Services Academy director George Jensen, her whānau and friends and teachers and said despite Tongariro School being a low decile school with limited resources, staff had worked hard to help her to be successful.
"The support here is astronomical and I'm really grateful I came here.
Te Ariki's mother Anita Porima was at the prizegiving and admitted she shed a few tears of pride when her daughter's name was called out.
She was looking forward to telling Te Ariki's father Neal Turanga and her nan of the achievement, both becoming dux and winning the Te Ara Whānui scholarship which she said the whānau was very grateful for.
Proxime Accessit Jorja Stewart, 18, said she was very surprised to become dux runner-up and says that surprise was clear to everybody watching the prizegiving.
"I think everyone could tell because I made the most shocked face."
Her subjects this year were tourism, social sciences, physical education, English and recreation and she also won prizes for drama and "a whole lot of sports ones". Jorja plays netball and basketball.
Next year she hopes to study to become a primary teacher at Waikato University.
School principal Steve Allen said at the school prizegiving that due to Covid-19, 2020 had been "an unbelievably hard year for all of us", but he was proud of the way the school had met the challenges.
"How unbelievably proud I am of our community in the way we have been able to deal with the challenges that have been put before us. If we didn't have the community support that we have in this town, I'm not sure what the outcome might have been but we pulled together, we looked after each other and made sure that everyone was safe."
Mr Allen said despite Covid, this year the school had the largest number of its senior students planning to move into tertiary study which was encouraging to see and he also anticipated that this year's NCEA results would see the greatest number of the school's students achieving NCEA level one, two or three.