Father-daughter achievement at Pasifika graduates’ celebration

It's been a double celebration for the Puka family of Lower Hutt this week, as father and daughter donned matching gowns and trenchers to graduate from Victoria University.

Melanie and John Puka

Long-serving secondary school teacher and former deputy principal of Wainuiomata High School John Puka graduated with a Master of Secondary School Leadership, while his daughter Melanie graduated with a double degree, majoring in Law and Development Studies.

The pair were awarded their degrees at last night’s ceremony and will celebrate at the University’s graduation event for Pasifika students this evening.

John says it’s a proud moment for him and his wife, who moved from Tokelau to New Zealand in the 1970s.

“We are very happy and very proud of our daughter. We know Melanie’s success is a measure of the care, support and prayers of a ‘whole village’, made of family, friends and her teachers. And we’re looking forward to when our son who is also studying at Victoria, graduates, God willing.

“A little pretentious perhaps, but it will be kind of special for our little family of four as university graduates considering the humble origins of my wife and I, being born in a thatched fale in Tokelau.”

Melanie says graduation is more exciting because she can share the experience with her father.

“It’s also a great opportunity to show my gratitude to my ‘village’ for their support and encouragement during my studies.”

She says her dad was a valuable sounding board and she would frequently talk to him about what she’d learnt in her lectures.

“More often than not, we’d end up having a debate, which helped test the validity of some of the ideas and concepts. He really challenged the way I thought. He also bugged me early on in my studies to make use of the University’s support services.”

John, who already had a Diploma of Teaching and Bachelor of Science, says he enrolled in the Master’s programme to advance his career.

“I was keen on becoming a principal and being successful at it, and the Master’s programme seemed like a good qualification to help me with that. And equally, to raise the bar for the kids and encourage them to achieve their higher goals towards being the best they can.

“But on reflection, it has also reminded me of the importance of lifelong learning as an attitude and helped me rediscover the power of reading and writing well. University education is much more than qualifications—it gives you more than an even chance of achieving your dreams.”

Not to be outdone by her father’s postgraduate qualification, Melanie is undertaking her first year of a Master of Development Studies, which she hopes to use in a future career to “make a valuable contribution to the Pacific”.

Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Pasifika) Hon. Luamanuvao Winnie Laban says: “Victoria University is committed to Pasifika success. John and Melanie’s achievements are a testament to the dreams and potential that lie within our Pasifika families and community.”