When Simon Clegg, 18, got ready for his final prizegiving at Stratford High School, he had no idea he would be receiving an award, let alone who would be presenting it to him.
Simon was the recipient of the Prime Minister Vocational Award of Excellence for Stratford High School 2020.
The Prime Minister visited the school while she was in Taranaki last Wednesday.
Simon says the visit from the PM made an already important event even more memorable.
"It was a very surreal feeling, I felt blessed to have been presented the award by the Prime Minister."
The award, which was introduced nationally last year, aims to raise the status of vocational study and recognise the achievements of students excelling in vocational education. Worth $2000 in prize money, the award is presented to a student who has demonstrated excellence in their vocational studies. One student is eligible per school or wharekura.
He says it was also a shock to see a photo of himself on Jacinda Ardern's Instagram page afterwards.
"It was so incredible seeing the photo of me, McDonald and Pretty Construction co-owner Craig Pretty and Jacinda on her Instagram. The whole day was pretty surreal. I woke up that morning with no idea that any of it would happen and next thing you know, I've met Jacinda, won a prestigious award and ended up on her Instagram."
As well as the award, Simon also received the Bishop Family Plaque for all round Gateway student who shows outstanding commitment, dedication, and achievement on the Gateway programme.
Simon took part in the Gateway programme for Year 12 and 13. During the programme he completed the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) Gateway programmes level two and three unit standards.
"I've always wanted to be a builder. I've always liked the hands-on side of things."
Over the two years Simon worked with two local building companies, working with Brad Gibbons Builders Limited in 2019 and McDonald and Pretty Construction this year.
Working with Brad Gibbons gave him a great insight into his chosen career, he says.
"They were very supportive and gave me the best introduction to the building industry. They gave me the confidence to carry on in the industry."
He says the Gateway programme has been invaluable.
"I'm very appreciative of Gateway co-ordinator Kim Hodson and career adviser Viv Milner. I'm also grateful for the building companies that took me on for my Gateway placements."
Kim says the Gateway programme has been 'great' for Simon.
"Over the two years in the programme, Simon has grown into a confident well spoken young man and has excelled in his trade, achieving highly on his BCITO programme as well as being an exemplary ambassador from Stratford High School in his Gateway work placements."
This year Simon worked for McDonald and Pretty Construction.
"Next year I'm starting an apprenticeship with them. Hamish McDonald and Craig are very supportive."
Hamish of McDonald and Pretty Construction says he is pleased Simon was the recipient of the award.
"He has a really good attitude and the award solidifies how great of a worker he is. Seeing the way he works it is no surprise he was the recipient of the award."
Craig says Simon is a great worker.
"He has a good understanding of what he is doing. He can pick up tasks really quick. You give him a job, show him what to do a couple of times and he can get it sorted."
He says he and Hamish are proud Simon received the award.
"It's pretty neat. Kim told us Simon was receiving a special award but we had no idea what it was and that Jacinda would be presenting it. It was so awesome she presented Simon with the award."
Craig says the business has a great relationship with the school.
"The Gateway programme is great as it gives them an understanding of what the industry is and if they enjoy it. We have another apprentice from the school as well who also has a really great work ethic."
Principal Cameron Stone says Simon's efforts have been 'outstanding'.
"Prior to the day Simon didn't know he would be receiving the award so it was a lovely surprise for Simon as well as our Dux and Proxime Accessit to be presented their awards by the Prime Minister."
He says the PM's visit was also a 'great' surprise for the school community.
"She spoke really well and a lot of people could relate to her speech. Her presence was a nice contribution to the day as we farewelled our senior students."