Still class acts 10 years on

Family comes first for a group of young people once recognised as some of Otago’s top high school pupils. Kim Dungey reports.

Otago’s former top high school pupils are carving out successful careers but for most of them, friends and family are the top priority.

The Otago Daily Times asked those who had received its Class Act award as high school pupils 10 years ago to list what is most important to them.

Of the 39 who responded to the question, 31 placed friends and family in their top two.

The 2008 Class Act recipients include (clockwise from top left): Luke Robson at the top of Mount Armstrong in Mt Aspiring National Park; Olivia Bates playing netball for the Southern Steel; Nell Guy with teenagers she did theatre, dance and filmmaking workshops with in Mumbai, India; skier Hamish McDougall doing a 360 tail grab during a training camp in Stubai, Austria; Arthur Milne playing rugby in the 2016 Bingham Cup in Nashville Tennessee; Deli Frampton (nee McDonnell) with 6-month-old son Deli Frampton (nee McDonnell) with her six-month-old son Hemi; Jordan Redding preaching at Knox Presbyterian Church where he sometimes fills in; and Anita van der Loo above the beach in Nice, France. Photo credits: Olivia Bates photo by Michael Bradley; Arthur Milne photo by Zechariah Sanders.


Anna Venz says these relationships keep her happy, sane and on track: "It’s so important to have good people around you."

Philippa MacKay agrees, saying having a solid support network of people is the foundation to any type of success or happiness and especially important when faced with challenges: "I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without them."

Good health was the group’s next biggest priority, followed by their work and then what could be described as personal growth and happiness.

Many wanted to continue to learn and challenge themselves, as well as contribute to their communities. Only one ranked financial stability in their top five.

Other priorities were more unusual. They included cheese, chocolate, coffee and watching the Highlanders. One person wanted to make it to the end of the year without killing any more of her indoor plants.

When asked how they prioritise what is important to them, several outlined efforts to achieve an appropriate work/life balance, while Peter Bernhardt gave credit to a scheduling tool on his computer, saying "Outlook Calendar is life".

Alec Dawson, who lives in New York city, says social media and the Internet have made it easier to stay in touch with family and friends than it used to be but he could still be better at it.

Aaron Lindsay, a father of two, jokes there are times when he needs to work at putting his priorities in the right order but a lot of nappy changes can be avoided during a seven-hour game with his air force cricket team.

First held 18 years ago, the annual Class Act awards are a way of celebrating the success of young people in the Otago Daily Times circulation area. The winners are chosen by their schools, based on their efforts in a variety of areas, including academic, sporting and cultural achievement. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will present this year’s awards in Dunedin on Thursday.

Now aged 25 to 28, the class of 2008 work in a variety of fields, from architecture to accounting, but the single biggest group are those practising law.

Shang-Chin Lai, one of eight in that field, helped prosecute child sex traffickers in the Philippines before moving to London where she works with vulnerable people such as refugees and the homeless.

Kai Daniel’s firm sells bags made in developing countries and gives a percentage of profits to social and environmental causes. Jon Thom’s artwork has appeared in galleries, on clothing and on a wall in Dunedin’s warehouse district.

Blair Tarrant plays hockey for the Black Sticks, Olivia Bates is in the Southern Steel, recent winners of the ANZ netball Premiership, and twins Hamish and Fraser McDougall continue to travel the world skiing.

Former international model Nicole Clulee has her own homewares business, while minister Jordan Redding is among nine people who are studying on a part-time or full-time basis.

The group also includes rocket scientist Lachlan Matchett and cosmologist Patricia Larsen.

Just over 25% of those who responded live overseas, most of them in the United States and England, while several others have jobs that regularly take them offshore.

Tom Dysart, who has a PhD in law from Oxford University, is among many who count graduating and travelling as highlights of the past decade. Others mention traditional rites of passage such as starting their careers, moving into their own homes and getting married.

Many reveal the most pressing issue in their lives is finding enough time to do everything they want to do or, as Kirsten McIntyre puts it, "getting everything fitted in, with time for sleep". For Tessa McCulloch it is being overwhelmed by many of the world’s major issues and not being able to solve them, which people tell her is a trait of a millennial.

While a few people say it took longer than expected to get where they wanted to be, the vast majority are satisfied with their lives 10 years on from high school, a feeling summed up by teacher Erin Ryder.

"I am exceptionally lucky," she says.

"I have a job I love. I am surrounded by people who support me. I’m fit and healthy."

Stephen Trebilco is looking forward to the next ten years and says "the best is still to come."

Nell Guy is satisfied with her life but less happy with the state of the world than she was ten years ago, saying that is probably because she is older and more interested in some of the wider issues that affect society. Coming out as queer and becoming a vegetarian in recent years have both been positive experiences: "I have wonderful friends and family, which I’m very grateful for, and am lucky enough to get to live, work and learn thanks to the hard work of plenty of individuals and groups before me. Now I owe it to the world to try to leave it better than when I entered it. Easy enough, right?"

Luisa Abadie is constantly re-arranging her list of priorities "but family and friends are always at the top".

Jordan Redding’s focus has shifted from performances to people.

"Ten years ago, I think my top priority would have been to be a rock star ... but friends and family — good community — I think is much more important," he says.

"I want to live my life in a way that prioritises people rather than career or money." 


Class acts

The class of 2008, where they are now.

• Rocket man Lachlan Matchett.

• Social entrepreneur Kai Daniel.

• Ten years from now; the 2008 Class Act recipients talk about the future in a series of short videos at

• This year’s Class Act recipients will be profiled in a special publication in the Otago Daily Times on Tuesday.


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