Fanaafi Aiono-Le Tagaloa prepares to graduate with a
doctorate from the University of Otago. Photo by Craig
Fanaafi Aiono-Le Tagaloa will have plenty to celebrate
today when she graduates from the University of Otago, becoming
the first Samoan-born person to gain a PhD in law from the
Otago University Law Faculty dean Prof Mark Henaghan said her
achievement was "fantastic", and her doctoral research on
aspects of the development and future of the Land and Titles
Court of Samoa was innovative and valuable.
Over the years, as an international student, Miss Aiono-Le
Tagaloa (33) has faced higher tuition fees, gaining
scholarship support to cover much of those costs, but also
needing to meet living costs.
Prof Henaghan said she had faced considerable financial
challenges during her doctoral study and the faculty had
tried to support her by providing her with research assistant
and tutoring work.
Today, she completes part of a long educational journey which
started when she began studying in the early 1990s at the age
of 13 at Otago Girls High School on a New Zealand
Vice-chancellors Committee scholarship.
She then gained a bachelor of law honours degree at Otago
University in 2000 and a BA (Hons) in history in 2001.
After later starting her PhD studies, she continued to face
financial hardship and took a break from Dunedin, spending
two and a-half years back in Samoa, some of that time working
in the Land and Titles Court, including as a legal officer.
She undertook field work for her thesis and earned money to
enable her to continue her studies.
She returned to Dunedin and Otago University in 2006,
supported by an Otago Maori and Pacific Islands PhD
Scholarship, and with funding support from her family.
She is pleased to have completed her studies, plans to return
to work in Samoa and knows that a new phase of her life
"I'm about to cross the threshold. There's a door at the end
of the hall that I really want to go through."
She comes from a family of high academic achievers, and all
her immediate family members have converged on Dunedin from
various parts of the world to celebrate her graduation.
Her mother, Prof Aiono Dr Fanaafi, has a doctorate in
educational philosophy and applied linguistics from the
University of London, and her father, Le Tagaloa Dr Pita, a
former Samoan minister of state and MP, has an honorary
doctorate from Drew University in the United States.
They now both live in Samoa, as does Miss Aiono-Le Tagaloa's
sister, Donna Aiono-Le Tagaloa-Ioane, a school principal.
Also celebrating with her today are two Otago medical
graduates, her brother, Mr Semisi Aiono, a general surgeon
based at Wanganui Hospital, and another sister, Dr Leinani
Aiono-Le Tagaloa, an assistant clinical professor in
anesthesiology at the University of California, in the United
Miss Aiono-Le Tagaloa is grateful for the crucial support of
her family and vital backing from the university, the Law
Faculty and the Otago Pacific Islands Centre.
Over the years, Dunedin had become a second home.
"It's a very pretty place and I like the size of it."