Long, tortuous path to degree worth it

Samoan student Michael Salamasina reflects on being able to finally graduate from the University of Otago today. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Samoan student Michael Salamasina reflects on being able to finally graduate from the University of Otago today. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Taking his family to St Clair Beach last month was one of the first things Samoan student Michael Salamasina did when he realised his long battle to complete his University of Otago degree was finally over.

It had taken him about 16 years, much of that time spent working to support his family, but he had finally made it.

''There's a sense of relief, a sense of satisfaction. I've found my place in the world.''

And he is the first member of his immediate family to gain a university degree.

''It's a huge honour.''

When he began his Otago physical education studies in 2001, he was already a father, his first child Meihana Kewene-Masina, now 17, having been born the previous year.

His partner, Francis Kewene, then gave birth to their second child, Ionatana Kewene-Masina, now 16, in 2001, and Mr Salamasina soon found himself helping out as a father at home, while his partner worked.

She is now a Hauora Maori professional practice fellow at the university.

He wanted to enjoy close contact with his growing children, and needed to undertake further work to support the family.

Between 2003 and 2007 he returned to university part-time study and completed much of his degree, but then he went back to family and other work commitments, including working as a storeman by day and sometimes a doorman by night.

There were many times when he had his doubts that he would ever complete his bachelor of physical education in professional studies and wondered: ''was I up to it?''.

But then, his close family links reminded him of his identity and inspired him to push on.

''I just remembered who I am.''

And two years ago, he was contacted by the university and advised that he could complete his studies by taking a further dozen papers.

This year he completed the last half dozen papers and when he passed his final exam he realised he could finally graduate.

School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise senior teaching fellow Margie Lazar said she was ''terribly proud and in awe of his achievement and unwavering commitment to study and completing this degree''.

''Michael has a big heart and a passion for people, family and learning.

''He hopes to pursue a career in either teaching or social work.

''He has a very strong identity and commitment to supporting Pacific Island culture and peoples,'' she said.

Mr Salamasina hopes that telling the story of his efforts to complete his degree will encourage others, including of Samoan ancestry, to persist and to pursue their own tertiary studies.

He acknowledged the strong support he had received from his family and the university, and said his studies had already changed his life, and were raising new job prospects.

john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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