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Source: University of Waikato

Jahvaya Wheki is not only the first member of her family to complete a university degree, but she graduated with a double major and completed it in two years, including overseas travel.

The University of Waikato student completed a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in International Languages and Cultures, specialising in Spanish and Tourism and Hospitality and is now preparing to compete in Miss New Zealand.

From Hamilton, Jahvaya says she came to study at the university by chance, after she worked at the University’s orientation week with YWCA in 2018.

“I got into so many conversations while I was working there, and people encouraged me to enrol. I enrolled and started three days later. I had no idea what to study and started with a Bachelor of Business.”

Jahvaya says the initial decision to study was easy because her first year was fees free, but education had not always agreed with her. She struggled at secondary school failing to apply herself, but she says after being stood down in year 9 something clicked.

“I went back to school and I was ready to learn. In year 11 I was given the opportunity to travel to Peru. My family sacrificed a lot to help me get there.”

“None of my family have been to University before so this was massive for us. I’m also the first from my family to complete secondary school.”

Once she started at University, Jahvaya was keen to complete her degree as soon as possible and, by working with her lecturers, studying up to five papers a semester, and completing summer school, she finished in two years.

“I was worried when I switched from business to the Bachelor of Arts it would take me longer, but it worked out really well and the lecturers were so supportive.”

She even managed to travel overseas on a scholarship in her first year of study.

Jahvaya received a scholarship to travel to Columbia for three months, where she continued studying three papers.

During her study she also received scholarships from the Northern Drivers Charitable Trust and her iwi, Waikato Tainui.

She said completing her degree has inspired her to show young Māori what can be achieved.

“I know there is a pattern with Māori and the statistics show less Māori attend university. I’m lucky, I have a supportive family, but I want to show people even if they don’t have a supportive family, there are always things out there to help you.”

Jahvaya is currently working at three jobs and preparing to compete in Miss New Zealand. She says her ambition is to establish her own travel business providing the opportunity for young New Zealanders to see different ways of life and have opportunities that they wouldn’t access otherwise.“I’m so conscious of the opportunities and support I have been given and I want to be able to give that back.

For anyone thinking of studying I would say, take every opportunity. Apply for the scholarships, just do it and see what you are capable of.”