The University Journey

The last four years have felt like an endless wait to getting that expensive piece of paper, like a never ending rhythm of stressing about deadlines, quiet feelings of confidence in the submitted papers, and frustrations about how useless the marker’s were.

A fair few breakdowns over patch-job group assignment hand-ins, and the relentless student emails about the extra readings that were put up on Sunday night that you need to have read by lunch time on Tuesday.

It’s been a dizzying disaster of unexpected diversions. Architecture was always my thing growing up. Since I was nine, drawing buildings and structural orthographic sketches lit my fire. It excited my fingertips the brush and pull of the pencil. The late night rendering of spaces and structures crafted as a result of coincidence and luck. A thing it was, my thing it was.

I didn’t realise that it wasn’t really buildings that interested me but more about how people used them, and the complementary relationship buildings had to people. A strong room to shelter people from the rain, or a balcony to leisure in the sun. An elevator to bring people up to the same level. Or Venetian blinds to close off and create privacy.

First year architecture was about building bricks and drawing lines. A lacklustre build up to an exciting career for sure, but not the one that I needed at the time. As much as doing lines was my thing…

This was about the same time my role as a youth advisor to the Minister for Social Development ended, and the opportunity to help establish a new Ministry that would support children living in state care emerged. A role that I would hold for years to come.

But I couldn’t just leave University. I’d made my dad a promise that one day I would finish it. That one day it would all be over. He often joked about how that would be the day I’d have to start paying my own way in life. He’s cheaper than an empty glass of milk the old fella.

So instead of dropping out, I adjusted my goals to suit this new opportunity with the ministry. With the focus of working in the policy team as an analyst. It wasn’t exactly the prestigious profession being an architect presented. But did that matter? The name Mana means prestige after all.

Going for a role in a Ministry didn’t just mean government job security, it also meant working for a newly formed hotly controversial organisation poised to create serious and real change to previously invalid and ineffectual systems for families in New Zealand, particularly Māori whānau (families).

This was something that didn’t just light my fire but instead raged an out of control blaze that resulted in a string of public speeches, systemic advocacy, two national awareness campaigns, a desire to help with the reformation of a children’s ministry, and the establishment of an independent advocacy service (a charity) for children and young people living in state care.

After changing my degree, it meant starting from scratch. I was able to retain all of my former credits but it meant working through subjects that were more boring than listening through a speech delivered by Simon Bridges, don’t blame you if you don’t know who he is either.

It meant taking accounting papers, papers about quantitative statistics, economics and more. Yeah it was interesting sometimes. But nothing depressed me more than finishing a full week of work on a Friday afternoon and then having to gear up for a numeric economics assignment due on Sunday, truly invigorating.

So it’s fair the journey involves sucking some eggs along the way. The grades weren’t the greatest, nor was my attitude regarding whether it was worth it or not. The embarrassment of explaining my change in degrees to my scholarship agencies was tough going. At least there was a truly epic reason for doing so.

About half way through university I had a hefty breakdown. Relationship issues, a hard time coming to terms with failing to nail the architecture degree, financial stress, and overwork (as a result of being a yes person). At the time I had just started as a board trustee of a couple charities; one for a children’s agency and another a mental health agency. I’d also started working for the Ministry, all the while trying to navigate tertiary responsibilities.

After the breakup with my girlfriend, my strength came from my whānau. The re-emergence of my younger and older sisters in my life gave me great joy in the recognition that there are bigger things in life than reading books and pressing that sexy “submit assignment” button. In a life of independence, feeling part of a whole in a family context is just the kind of grounding I needed to heal and refocus.

The birth of my niece and nephew were also huge blessings. They are wee gems of great significance. They brought new life into our families world with their cute wee clothes and cheeky smiles. Their warmth suffused every room they jiggled upon. Their visits always met with high pitched welcomes, and low reached cuddles.

What was noticeable most was the impact they had on my parents. My parents have these stable but idle demeanours. With the introduction of babies in their lives, their attitudes were replaced with excitement and animation. Their energy gave me energy. Enough to get to the end of university.

The journey has been littered with highs and lows. It’s been a process of general confusion, interest, and love. In the end, it has been one of the most arduous journeys I’ve yet been on. But to be honest, it has invigorated me to want to do it again. Because this time, I know I can do it. There’s an expensive piece of paper that says so!

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