"Whitireia has opened doors to opportunities and chances of success"

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Last month, Whitireia and its communities celebrated the success of their latest batch of graduates with the annual March graduation ceremony. The ceremony was a colourful and festive event, with plenty of tautoko (support), waiata, and haka acknowledging their fantastic achievement.

This year's graduate speech was delivered by Bachelor of Health Science (Paramedic) graduate Steve Walsh, who has been working for Wellington Free Ambulance since finishing his studies at the end of last year. Steve's speech was an honest and inspiring story about life as a student, and is well worth a read!

Tēnā koutou, talofa lava, malo e lelei, bula vinaka, welcome.

I’m Steve Walsh and I am very honoured to have been asked by the Faculty of Health to represent us on this amazing occasion. It’s quite clear there are some proud people here, and I’m here to talk to you about how we got to this point.

Graduation 2017: Steve Walsh
Most of us started this journey around three years ago, some more, some less, depending on our qualifications. Even though we’re from various faculties and programmes, I think we’ve shared many of the same experiences over the length of time it’s taken to reach today. For many of us in this room, it all began with entering the unknown. Most of us had never met before, and we come from various backgrounds, family situations, cultures, experiences, various parts of the country, and various parts of the world.

Some of us came straight out of high school, others were having a change of direction in life, some were looking for a new start. It all started with a feeling of nervousness, fear, excitement, bewilderment – all of that mixed into one – but before long we were straight into our classes, we were meeting our tutors, we were finding out when our assessments were, we were being informed of the high expectations of us, and we were meeting our new classmates.

Quickly, we were in a rhythm, things started falling into place, and we were learning how to balance our workload. For many of us, our personal spaces were pushed to the limits. For example, we on the Paramedic degree were taking pulses of people we’d never met before, we were listening to their breaths through their chests, we were strapping them to hardboards, and we were carrying them up and down stairs. It was a very intimate environment to be experiencing so soon, and bonds quickly began to form.

But soon, the stress kicks in; the first assessment is due and you’re nervously waiting to find out if you’re on track. Placements start and you’re working with people who’ve been doing this craft for years, and they’re watching your every move and critiquing.

For the remainder of our studies, we don’t really get away from this stress. One assignment is done, another test comes up, we’re straight into a practical assessment, with tutors assessing our every decision and monitoring our mastery of new skills learnt, and we’ve got forums due in. All this occurs while we’re trying to balance our home life. People are working part-time, full-time, they’re doing volunteer shifts, they’re looking after sick members of their whānau, they’re trying to raise children.

Graduation 2017

But slowly, we come towards the end. As we reach the end of our studies, we’ve got another stressor – we’re trying to find work or we’re trying to decide if we’re going to do further study. Applications are sent out, interviews are performed, and as we come towards the end of our assessments, we’re entering an unknown future.

But the milestones are gradually ticked off. The last assignments are handed in, we pass the final practical assessment and then we’re sitting that final exam, nervously waiting to find out if it’s all done – to get to where we are today.

Life as a student, just as life in general, isn’t always straightforward. Some people have had to navigate the despair of losing a loved one or the joy of a newborn child. They’ve pushed through the frustration and pain of failing an assessment or enjoyed the elation of getting a better than expected grade. We can experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in a very short period of time.

It’s a mental and emotional rollercoaster. Fatigue sets in, but we find our outlets, whether it’s running, sport, socialising, going to a movie, reading a book that isn’t a 1000-page textbook that weighs about 25kgs, going down to the mall for food and to hang out with our friends. Or to just relax – relax our mind and ready ourselves for what comes next.

One of the most important things that happens is that bonds are formed. Those strangers that I mentioned, they’re no longer strangers. Some of them will become our work colleagues, we may even form lifelong friendships, which all started here at Whitireia.

I think it is the small things that make the student life an enjoyable experience and balance out the other demands we might have. It might be meeting someone in the library or the late-night computer room from a different walk of life. You hear about their experiences, about the troubles they’re going through with their studies as well. It might be playing a game of table-tennis with someone from another faculty that you’ve never met before to unwind. It might be assisting a new student to find their way around the campus, or helping someone with an aspect of their studies that they’re struggling with, or having someone explain something to you that they know to finally make something make sense to you.

For me, it was knowing that going into class, I was probably going to have a good time – I was always going to laugh. We always had good banter between myself, my fellow students and our tutors.

Grand Traverse 2017

Today is a culmination of months, even years, of application and sacrifices. To be here today, is recognition of the late hours in the library, staying up all night putting the finishing touches on your assignment, saying no to friends or family because you’re on placement, have something due in, or have an exam to prepare for. Today means various things to all the individuals here. For some it’s entering into a new field they’ve been dreaming of for years. For others, it’s a stepping stone towards more study, or a new job opportunity or progression.

What it means to us is a new set of opportunities, ones that weren’t open to us prior to starting what we’ve achieved today.

For everyone else in the room, we couldn’t have done it without your help. On behalf of all the graduates, I’d like to thank all of the various faculty members who’ve allowed us to get here today. Without the guidance and expertise of our tutors, we may not have made it to this point. Thank you for the banter, the laughs and the multitude of memories that we’ve gained during our time here with you. Thank you to the backroom staff, who do all the things behind the scenes, things that we probably don’t even know they’re doing to help us achieve. Thank you to the local iwi, Ngāti Toa, for all your involvement with Whitireia.

Most of all, I want to thank you, the whānau, the friends, the siblings, the partners, the children, who've been involved in this journey with us. You’ve made a sacrifice just as much as we have. Thank you for understanding why your partner, your parent, your loved one hasn’t been involved as much in your lives as much as they have been in the past. Thank you for putting up with the mood swings, for supporting us through the hard times, for celebrating our successes. Thank you for the monetary support, as well as the emotional support. Without you, getting to this point would have been a much harder experience, and I can tell from the reactions of the people here that these qualifications mean as much to you as they do to us.

But what do our futures hold? I can’t comment on our individual futures, but hopefully, you’ve achieved what you set out to do and opened doors to opportunities and chances of success. As we go out into this new world, I just have one request, my fellow graduates – don’t ever forget what is was like to be a student. Soon we’re going to have students in our lives – be patient, be understanding. Remember that there are multiple things going on in their lives. Remember how intimidating it could be. Remember the good mentors but also remember the bad, because you can also learn from them.

Congratulations to everyone here. It’s a massive achievement and we’ve done plenty of work to get to this point.

Thank you.

Graduation 2017: Steve Walsh and Dr Ruth Anderson

Steve Walsh and Dr Ruth Anderson