Solo mother Arini Loader is not big on ceremony, but after her family made sure she got through university she reckons she owes them the graduation.
"It's all about them. I could honestly do without the ceremonies, but the family, they deserve it - this is theirs."
Dr Loader, who graduated with a PhD in Maori studies yesterday, said her parents and two siblings looked after her son when she needed to get essays finished or work, and her brother would lend her money for schoolbooks when StudyLink hadn't come through.
She said "life just kind of took over" when she hit 16 - she dropped out of school, did a performing arts course, worked in bars and restaurants, and then had her first child when she was 21.
It wasn't until she was 23, and heard she could get automatic entry to university, that she decided to give education another crack.
"For the first three years while I was doing my bachelor's I had no idea what I was doing, I was just kind of feeling my way, talking to lots of people and taking advice."
Dr Loader, now 36, said she had little confidence she would get through it, and it was daunting watching students fresh out of high school who seemed to know what they were doing.
"It was always in the back of my mind that I had dropped out of high school, I felt like I didn't belong ... and being a solo parents as well, I was never quite sure what I was up to."
She started out with a BA in English literature, moved on to a postgraduate diploma in Maori, then a masters in Maori studies. She also managed to fit in another child, now aged 1.
Her 13-year-old son, Tahiwi, spent much of his childhood trying to be quiet at university and she hopes the environment has rubbed off on him.
"Being comfortable and being in the university and occupying that space is normalised for him. It wasn't for me or my brother and sister."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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