HomeNewsProud Māmā ‘Humbled’ To Be Named As UCOL Valedictorian

Proud Māmā ‘Humbled’ To Be Named As UCOL Valedictorian

By UCOL on Wednesday, 03 April 2024

Valedictorian Chevonne Meier

Classmates, friends, whānau and a few tears - UCOL gathered them all as 178 ākonga (students) celebrated their graduation yesterday.

Across the four campuses in Wairarapa, Manawatū, Horowhenua, and Whanganui, a total of 1,329 graduates will be eligible to cross the stage.

Among the Wairarapa graduates was this year's Valedictorian - Chevonne Meier (Tainui-Ngāti Maniapoto), who has completed her Bachelor of Nursing. A second chance learner, she was 'blown away' when she received the call she'd be chosen.

"It didn't quite click at first! But it's such an honour to stand up in front of my peers and my whānau. I'm the first one in my family to earn a degree. But you do get a bit of imposter syndrome too, like 'Why me?' It's only when I look at my transcripts and look at what I achieved that I realise wow, I've gone from getting C's to getting A's for every paper, and when I'm working people are asking my opinion because I do have the answers."

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Meier's path into study is what she calls 'a bit of a journey', but she had been interested in nursing ever since the birth of her daughter. "She was born 12 weeks early, so we spent a lot of time in the NICU. I met some amazing nurses but also a couple of not great ones, and my instinct was, 'What more can I do for my daughter?' I ended up supporting her nursing, taking her baseline observations every three hours. I realised I could be a nurse.

"I started studying in 2018, when I did a pathway course. I did look at other educators, but when I went to their open day the classes were huge, with so many people and I felt out of place - it was so big, and it made me feel little. When I went to UCOL Wairarapa it felt intimate and I could have more one-on-one conversations."

That intimacy was something Meier loved during her classes. She bonded with her classmates, who came from all different walks of life. "We had everyone from kids straight out of high school to someone who had just become a grandma! We'd study together, all of us doing late nights in the Hub with our kids and pizza together."

"The greatest challenge was honestly myself - a part of me was asking 'Do I deserve this? Am I capable of this?' But other people were like this is amazing, this is your calling, they kept me in tune and helped me to remember yes, you're on the right path, keep going." 

Meier is excited about what's next. She's now working as a registered nurse at Te Whare Ahuru, an acute mental health centre, and has been accepted into a new entrants specialist programme. Meanwhile she's also doing post graduate papers in mental health and addiction, and next year will be working towards her Masters.

"As Māori, my concept of health is based on hauora and the whole person. So while I want to move into ICU, emergency and surgery departments, I want my background and foundation to be in mental health first. There's always that underlying layer of it, even if someone comes in with a broken leg I want to be able to assess and help them. There's not an exact programme for that, so by the time I'm done I want to have a Masters in mental health, a second Masters in acute services, and I'll be a fully trained Nurse Practitioner in indigenous health."

During the ceremony, the largest Wairarapa cohort was for those who had completed their Bachelor of Nursing, like Meier. Also celebrating were the first ever graduates of UCOL's Te Pokaitahi Reo (Rumaki) Te Kaupae 5, which is a te reo Māori immersion programme.

Jasmine Groves, Operations Lead says UCOL is delighted with Meier's success, as well as the accomplishments of all their graduates.

"This is such a special moment for our ākonga - to have their efforts recognised and celebrate all that they have achieved with whānau and friends. It can feel like an ending but it's actually the opposite. This is us celebrating the beginning of their careers, and all that they will go out and do with the skills they have learned."

Meier used her time on stage to pass on advice to her fellow graduates, and to anyone thinking about studying.  "To my colleagues - don't forget your aroha, your warmth, and the comfort empathy can bring.

"To future generations - if someone like me can do it, so can you. Just get out of your own way. Not only will you make your kids, your whānau, your friends proud - you'll be able to sit in that moment and say, 'I'm proud of me.'"