Grad’s advice: ‘If I can do it, you can do it too’

Ilisapeti (Betty) Feiloaki Feiloakitohi celebrates her graduation with her parents Helen and...
Ilisapeti (Betty) Feiloaki Feiloakitohi celebrates her graduation with her parents Helen and Vilisoni Feiloakitohi. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
Ilisapeti (Betty) Feiloaki Feiloakitohi never thought she would get a second chance at the University of Otago.

But today, she celebrates her graduation after a decade-long journey.

Ms Feiloakitohi, 28, began studying health science in 2014, but after two years had not got the results she needed, so took a break to work for three years.

She went home to Mangere in South Auckland and worked in the freezing works.

"Coming into university, just being in the space was my honour, and studying was my challenge.

"When I went back home to work, I assumed that was the end of my university journey."

Her work in administration at the freezing works led her to study for and complete a Business and Administration Diploma from Otago Polytechnic in 2018.

"It was my opportunity for a second chance."

She decided to study a bachelor of science, majoring in anatomy, in 2019.

"I wanted to get back into a space to conquer the papers."

Studying during Covid-19 proved difficult — she flew home hours before the first lockdown.

She is proud of her Pacific background, hailing from “a beautiful small island in Tonga".

Ms Feiloakitohi is one of five siblings, ranging in age from 19 to 32, and the first to graduate secondary school and attend university.

"I love a challenge, and I knew it would be harder [the second time around].

"This time, I tried to communicate with the Pacific Island community.

"I made sure I walked into the PI centre, and told them who I was and that I needed help."

Complications from stomach surgery were another obstacle and it felt like she "always had to visit the hospital just before an exam".

She intends to study at a postgraduate level, but for the moment, she would be based in Mangere to help look after her parents.

"Our family home was badly affected by the Auckland floods last year ... we're waiting to see what the council is going to do with the place.

"My parents need me back home so I can help with all the communication matters."

She has advice for anyone who feels they are struggling and would not make it at university.

"Just wear it ... no matter how long it takes, if I can do it, you can do it too. Take ownership of your choices.

"I know when I walk on to that stage [today], I'll be wearing it with pride."