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Source: University of Waikato

It was fitting that, on a day of showers followed by sunshine, Jake Angus brought out the rainbow when they graduated from the University of Waikato on Thursday (10 December).

Jake (Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāpuhi and Tainui), who identifies as takatāpui/gender diverse, walked the stage at Te Kohinga Mārama Marae to graduate with a Bachelor of Teaching (Primary), resplendent in a rainbow zebra print suit topped off with their graduation gown and whānau korowai.

Although they studied at the University’s Tauranga campus, Jake opted to have their degree conferred in Hamilton to experience the full tikanga Māori Marae celebration. Jake glowed with pride, and shed a few tears, when Professor Don Klinger presented them with their degree to the sound of their dad’s touching rendition of Auld Lang Syne in Te Reo Māori. For Jake, it had been a long journey to make it to graduation day.

“I’m living proof of the saying ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try again’,” they laugh.

Jake was born in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) and raised in Kerikeri and returned to Auckland for their high school years. After leaving Rosehill College, Jake enrolled to study at the University of Auckland only to start, swap and stop three programmes of study. Reminiscent of the Goldilocks story, Jake claimed that none were “just right” at the time.

“I felt I was too young for the Bachelor of Social Work. The Bachelor of Arts was better but I changed majors from Sociology and Politics to Education before leaving for health reasons. Then I enrolled in a conjoint Bachelor of Business and Diploma in Interior Design but it wasn’t the right fit either.”

When Jake’s whānau moved to the Bay of Plenty, they soon followed and decided to enrol at Waikato. A love of education and a desire to help people saw them combine the two to study a Bachelor of Teaching (Primary). Their gender and cultural identity also played a part in cementing Jake’s decision to a career path that makes a difference in the lives of rangatahi.

“As a young takatāpui being, growing up I never saw myself reflected in a teacher or someone I could trust,” says Jake.

“I believe the biggest difference I can make, aside from instilling my love of education in the kids I teach, is to show people that we’re all human and it’s OK to be yourself. Plus, having more Māori teachers to help Māori students succeed in education was a huge driving factor for me.”

Jake thrived in the smaller, friendly environment of the Tauranga campus and took every opportunity to weave themselves into the fabric of the place. They put their hand up to volunteer at University events such as Open Day and Teachers Info Evening, became an executive member of the Mana Ake ki Tauranga Moana student club and took on the, newly created, role of board director for the Waikato Students’ Union (WSU) to represent the Tauranga student cohort.

“Since the new campus opened in Tauranga I’ve wanted to see it succeed and take on the mauri (life force) of the different cultures and values of the students within its walls. I campaigned hard to be voted in as the board director for WSU because I wanted our student voice heard in Hamilton,” they say.

Successful placements at Arataki School, Mount Maunganui Intermediate and Ōmokoroa Point School reinforced Jake’s commitment to enter the teaching profession.

“Teaching isn’t easy, but we all knew that when we signed up. Making that difference, even in one child’s day, is why we roll out of bed and head off to school.”

There have been many memorable moments of Jake’s time at Waikato. Being part of a student group that entered, and placed second, in the United Nations Youth Tertiary Case Competition last year, was right up there. Aside from being proud to represent the University in that forum, Jake says the connections made on the whistle-stop trip to Auckland have grown into friendships that will last a life-time.

Jake admits that despite all their positive experiences at university, there have been challenges too. At one point they juggled four part-time jobs alongside full-time study to make ends meet. Being named as one of ten recipients of a Tauranga Campus Returning Student Scholarship, generously donated by the Tauranga Tertiary Campus Charitable Trust (TTCCT), took a huge weight off their shoulders earlier this year. Finding out recently that they have been awarded the prestigious TeachNZ Kupe Māori and Pasifika High Achievers Scholarship was the icing on the cake and Jake looks forward to attending the awards ceremony in Wellington early next year.

Graduation will remain a standout memory for Jake who was supported on the day by mum Victoria, stepdad Derek, sister Karanga, brother Keanu, and dad Gairn. Jake’s former tutor from Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, Kalolo Haufano, drove down from Auckland to be part of the long-awaited and much anticipated celebration.

On Wednesday (16 December) Jake will attend graduation again – this time in the audience to cheer on their Class of 2020 teaching cohort at the Tauranga campus. After that, they look forward to spending summer with their whānau before starting their permanent teaching role at Ōmokoroa Point School next year. They will still squeeze in some time to continue honing their Te Reo Māori and Tīkanga skills through Te Wānanga o Aotearoa – there is no rest for the self-confessed “study junkie”.

Jake’s advice to anyone struggling to find the path that’s right for them is to stop, breathe and press reset if necessary.

“Education has kept my mind active and engaged and has been a form of self-care for my mental health, especially in this crazy year! Through education we can learn, grow and develop into the best possible self we can be. Mauri ora!”

MIL OSI