“I want to set a good example for my kids,” explains Telesia. “I want them to know how important education is. My mum came all the way from Samoa for my graduation and when she went back, it was the first time she was happy when she left. She told me I am the inspiration for my sisters and brothers.”

Telesia grew up in Malifa, in Apia, Samoa. She left school at 16 and travelled extensively as a professional dancer. When she became a mother at 21 she thought her career was over. But her parents told her to pursue more, so she continued to dance and travelled the world on a cruise ship as a chief steward.

In 2001 she left the cruise ship and married her husband of 12 years. “I shared my dream of going back to school with him, and he said if I married him it would become true.”

Telesia started out with a foundation education programme and a Certificate in Communication before enrolling in Unitec’s Bachelor of Communication (Event Management). With English as her second language, she found the degree challenging, and made the most of the support on offer from the Pacific Centre, Student Learning & Achievement, and her Communication Studies lecturers.

“I started in 2008, but I was overwhelmed because it was hard, so I dropped out,” she says. “I came back because the dream doesn’t leave you, it was like a magnet. I only passed one paper my first semester, but it made me determined. It wasn’t so much showing them I could do it, it was showing myself I can do it.”

“My biggest challenge was the grammar, trying to understand what the lecturers wanted and finding out how to do research. Asking the lecturers questions really helped me overcome this problem.”

“You need to do your work in advance and get it checked by Student Learning & Achievement or the Pacific Centre,” adds Telesia. “I found them really helpful and they are the best people to proofread your stuff. If you leave it to the last minute you’ll be stressed and you won’t finish.”

Telesia’s happiest moment was when she received her results and found out she had passed. Before her formal graduation, she attended the Pacific Graduation ceremony. “It was the best day in my whole uni life. It made me think if Unitec can do this for my people, I want to encourage them to come and study here, because the Pacific team was there from day one. My family thought it was awesome and my sister wants to study at Unitec now.”

It wasn’t just the support services at Unitec that helped Telesia through her degree, she also had a strong foundation thanks to her mother, and support from her husband and children too. “I’m so proud and grateful for the support from my family and I want to acknowledge my mum. She’s the one who makes me believe in education and she’s the one who taught me to never stop dreaming.” Thanks to her husband and family, Telesia was able to stand with pride next to hundreds of other graduates at graduation.

"I'm really proud of myself and I just thank God for my determination, because he was my guardian. There were times I wanted to give up, because it was too much, but because I believed in prayer it helped me to stay."