29 June, 2012
Graduation Ceremony for BEST Auckland, Telstra Clear Pacific Events Centre
Talofa lava, mālō e lelei, bula vinaka, kia orana, tēnā koutou katoa.
Thank you to Reverend Alesana McCarthy for our opening karakia this afternoon.
To Anita Finnigan, the visionary who founded BEST some 24 years ago, staff of the BEST team and whānau here today - thank you for inviting me to be the keynote speaker at your graduation ceremony for the Certificate in Tourism and Certificate in Business Administration.
My parliamentary colleague MP Peseta Sam Lotu-liga, mana whenua, church and community leaders, isn’t it great to be here today to bask in the success of our graduates?
Isn’t it great to be amongst the hundreds of whānau in attendance today, to be here with them to mark this significant milestone?
And even more to celebrate 25 years of partnership with the Pasifika peoples of Tāmaki Makaurau – to thank you, and to acknowledge the business, community and local leaders who have helped along the way?
What can be better than looking out amongst the faces of all these beautiful brown people, beaming with pride, rich in the knowledge that their futures will be brighter, their opportunities greater.
As I thought about the pride you might be feeling today, my mind turned to the words contained in the fatele dance from Tuvalu:
True beauty in a land lies in the unity of hearts
To put our efforts together for the things we need in life
You feel this, I feel this.
To put our best efforts together for the things we need in life would have no doubt been at the forefront of Anita Finnigan’s thinking when she decided to set up BEST. She would have done so in the knowledge that there was a need in Auckland for a tertiary education provider that meets the aspirations and goals of all of the Pasifika communities living here in Aotearoa.
Obviously she was right because today, BEST is New Zealand’s largest private training establishment offering a range of qualifications at levels 1 to 5 to its mainly 2,500 Pasifika and Māori students.
Three quarters of your students are of Pasifika origin, and the rest are Māori.
You have opened the doors to a world of opportunities for your students and their whānau, and linked them to businesses, employers and industry to ensure the investment they make in learning pays dividends through sustainable employment at the end of their learning journey with BEST.
You can be proud that the 125 staff you employ to support the 2,500 students that come through your six schools of study at any one time are able to undertake study which provides them with the tools to succeed.
And today is as much about congratulating the students as it is about acknowledging the people who have helped you along the way.
Today is your day too. You have made sacrifices and encouraged your loved ones to complete their studies.
The other night I was retelling the story of when my husband George completed his apprenticeship. His boss knocked on our door at home and delivered a beautiful bouquet of flowers and some chocolates. Not for George, but for me.
I asked at the time why I deserved the treats since it was after all George who had done all the hard work.
His boss simply said he wanted to acknowledge me for being the one that stood by and supported George, and that without my support, he wouldn’t have completed his training.
At the time, I thought nothing of the sacrifice that we were making as a young couple. I thought only of the benefits that would accrue as a result.
And indeed the benefits did flow and continue to flow. Not long after completing his training, the bonus George got was in the form of support to build our own home.
I think one of the things I love about the concept behind Best is your vision: empowering students, empowering families – knowing of course that it is one and the same.
We all know that Aotearoa is browning up – and that because of high birth rates the Pacific population is growing faster than any other.
According to the demographers while Pasifika peoples make up six percent of the population now, by 2015 Pasifika peoples will comprise twelve percent of the population – or putting it another way more than half a million people.
So how are we preparing for a younger, browner future – what are we doing as a nation to unleash the full potential of our communities?
The other day I got sent a Youtube clip featuring J H Iosefo – a young man born and raised in South Auckland. His clip was called simply Brown Brother.
This beautiful young man went through the labels and stereotypes that limited perceptions of his potential – the brown statistic. And he asked the question,
“will there ever be a time when representation goes beyond putting our own people to shame…. Will it ever change? Are we not capable of an art form that is thought provoking or seen as a form of intelligence?”
He ended with a passionate call to the heart.
“Brown brother – look at me.
You are more than capable… you will go places…. You will tell stories….do not feel alone. …Where-ever you go, you take us with you. Do not be afraid to be the first.
Do not be afraid to be the change. Not a change in skin tone or colour. But a change in mindset – from one brown brother to another”.
This young schoolboy shows us all about the power of optimism; the importance of faith; the strength of believing in our collective abilities. He reminds us that yes indeed, we can all be the very best that we can be – we are more than capable.
As I think about the journey you will have traversed to be here today, I think about the mindset you have taken on; to arrive at this point.
The certificates you are awarded today, are a visual testimony to the skills and talents you have applied to your study. The real success however will be in what you do with your certificates.
I know that you will go on and continue to succeed. That today, whilst we celebrate Pasifika achievement and Māori success – that we also celebrate a bright future for all our communities.
In tangata whenua terms we have an expression which encapsulates the mindset we need to succeed:
Whaia te iti kahurangi
Ki te tuohu koe
Me he maunga teitei
Pursue that which is precious
And if you should bow your head
Let it be to the loftiest mountain
Just as Brown Brother is standing up to be a champion of hope; am ambassador for the rich potential of our youth; every one of you here today is capable of pursuing the richness of the world in front of us.
And I am so pleased to know that when I cast my eyes into the future, that it will be all your faces that beam bright like the star Puanga that heralds the night skies to remind us it is time to rejoice, and to celebrate new beginnings.
It is timely that your graduation happens at the time of Puanga and Matariki, and I can think of no better symbol than this to offer you my heartfelt congratulations. May these stars of the Māori New Year crown you in their glory as you take the next step in to your bright future.