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Source: University of Waikato

Graduating from the University of Waikato this week with a Bachelor of Laws with Honours, Savanna Hiha credits the beginning of her journey to a Year 10 teacher who saw her potential and made a point of telling her she would make a great lawyer one day.

It was this off-the-cuff comment which planted the seed and now, seven years down the track, Savanna has finished her law degree and has set her sights even higher – next year she will tackle a Diploma in Te Tohu Paetahi to improve her fluency in Te Reo Māori. She says “I want to be able to represent myself and Māori more authentically when I enter the workforce.”

Raised in Hawke’s Bay with two of her brothers, the area will always be home to Savanna

and she has a particularly special connection to Waimarama Beach where she holidayed at the family bach throughout her childhood. However, the Waikato has certainly etched a special place in her heart over the last four years. Looking back, she says the move to Hamilton fresh out of high school was huge – she knew nobody and was not familiar with the city at all. It was a daunting time and she admits to having many moments of feeling like she didn’t belong.

However, with the support of new friends and inspiring staff, she found her confidence and her voice and embraced many unique opportunities during her student years. Some of the most memorable include a stint as a clerk at a law firm in the Hawke’s Bay, being a Māori mentor for other law students, working as research assistant to support staff and a summer law clerk role in Wellington for the Government Legal Network programme during her final year.

She was also very involved in Te Whakahiapo – the Waikato Māori Law Student Association. This culminated in her election to the Executive Board in 2019 as Secretary and then as President. She was also involved in Te Āhurutanga (2018 and 2019), which helped her build her confidence in Te Ao Māori.

The highlight of her action-packed four years however, was being chosen to attend the annual law conference for Māori in the legal profession, Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa Hui-ā-Tau, in Wellington in 2019. This event was incredibly inspiring, especially hearing from revered experts including Tiana Epati (New Zealand Law Society President) and Moana Jackson (prominent Māori constitutional lawyer).

Savanna will be graduating at the marae this week supported by many proud family members. It will be a big moment especially in a year when so many have been deprived of sharing in these types of public celebrations. Savanna says it was her incredible support network that ensured she got to the finish line, particularly her mum who proofread all her assignments, and she is humbled to have many of them here in person to share her big day.

Her advice to those with big dreams, a big voice but big concerns about whether they will be the right fit for University is simple: “Trust in yourself, work hard, be proactive and find your people, and the world will be your oyster.”