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The Te Tumu PhD student has spent the past nine years juggling part-time study with full-time work, raising four children and supporting his wife, Michelle Schaaf, while she completed her PhD.
Today he will graduate as a doctor of philosophy within the same hour as his son Marckis (22), who will graduate with a bachelor of science minoring in gender studies.
While he had taken time off study during the past nine years, the journey to today had been "really, really tough" at times, but giving up was something he would never dare model for his children.
"I’ve probably taken the longest amount of time to finish and I wanted to be done way before they started, but I was never going to give up."
Determination was also one of the main themes of his thesis on motivation and burnout in Pasifiki professional rugby players, he said.
"I’ve walked alongside elite sportspeople through their careers and seen the highs and lows."
He considered many of the sportspeople he had met through his research, including former All Blacks and Manu Samoa players, to be close friends.
After being left unable to play rugby because of an on-field injury, his next best move was to examine "what makes players tick", he said.
His love of the game had also become a byword within the John McGlashan College 1st XV team, of which he was a head coach.
In August he helped lead the team to a historic 17-15 victory over Otago Boys’ High School.
Marckis, who was head boy of John McGlashan in 2012, said his father’s commitment to achieving his goals, as well as support from family including his mother in Auckland, kept him going despite the challenges of academia.
"I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was a small kid.
"I’ve never made a plan B, I’m just shooting for plan A."
Such commitment had meant taking a different path in order to become a doctor, after he failed to make it through the highly competitive health sciences programme.That included taking gender studies as a minor, a choice he was encouraged in by his family.
"If he is going to be a good doctor, he needs to be able to relate to a range of people and situations," Matani said.
While his first gender studies paper on feminism was a baptism by fire for the boys’ school graduate — "we weren’t really encouraged to be finding out about things like that at school" — by the end of his degree he was enjoying the minor.
Next year he planned to continue studying towards becoming a doctor.
Matani will swap roles next year and take up a teaching role at South Otago High School.After submitting his PhD thesis last year, he completed a master of teaching and learning at Otago.
He planned to commute from Dunedin each week to teach at the school.
After today’s ceremony, the pair would celebrate with family, some from as far afield as Auckland, whom they credited for helping them attain their goals.
"They are why we are here today. I’ve been told and I’ve told my children, you never rewrite a goal — if you want something bad enough you will make it happen," Matani said.