Dux rewarded for hard work

Girls college student receives top honours

ANNA PEARSON
Last updated 15:22 08/11/2012
Alexandra Tonks
PATRICK HAMILTON/FAIRFAX NZ
EXCEL: Dux Alexandra Tonks and Proxime Accessit Holly Pittar at the Nelson College for Girls prizegiving.

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Allie Tonks reckons she deserves a break next year, and the Nelson College for Girls student might be right.

Allie was named dux during the school's senior prizegiving yesterday.

The 17-year-old was first in five subjects this year: English, history, mathematics with statistics and modelling, biology and chemistry.

Allie has final exams coming up, but she won't be having a summer holiday this year.

She was one of six young New Zealanders to gain a BayerBoost Environmental Scholarship, and will undertake a 10-week summer placement at Cawthron Institute.

Her project is to obtain data on the abundance of a toxic algal bloom in the Marlborough Sounds.

Allie said she was "so happy" to receive the Atmore Memorial Scholarship and PTA Award - Dux of the College, as she had been determined to do well academically since year nine.

She also received the school's Network Tasman Award for excelling in science, maths or commerce, another award for "scholarship, character and contribution to the college", and the PTA Prize for Academic Leader.

"I have never had a plate or a medal or anything. I am so excited. It's overwhelming. It's really nice to be recognised, because I have put in a lot of hard work," she said.

Allie and her friend Holly Pittar, who was awarded the Crissina E Boyes Memorial Scholarship and PTA Award for Proxime Accessit to the Dux, were the school's first academic leaders after the positions were introduced this year.

The pair set up a mentoring programme for struggling students, where they could register for academic help from other students, which ended up with 60 mentor volunteers and 30 people being mentored.

"It was quite a flexible system. It was a real student-led thing. We had so much good feedback," said Allie.

They also ran a "geek week", with dressup debates against Nelson College, quiz and science days, and organised and fronted an interschool decathlon that drew 200 students to Waimea College earlier this year.

Allie said their aim as academic leaders was to try to make academia "fun and accessible" to more people.

Allie's achievements don't end at the school gates, however. She was a member of the Nelson Youth Council this year, and has been a Big Brothers Big Sisters mentor to a primary school-aged girl for two years. She also has an advanced diploma in jazz and contemporary dance.

Allie said her time Nelson College for Girls had been "incredible", and she was looking forward to a gap year next year.

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After Cawthron, she planned to work until September before travelling overseas for four months. She would apply to study at universities in New Zealand or overseas on her return.

"I'm hoping to find some adventure. I don't know what I want to study at all. I just think I need a bit of a break," she said.

Follow your dreams, says Dame Suzie

Think big, dream big and "go for it", a matriarch of the Nelson arts scene has told students at Nelson College for Girls.

Dame Suzie Moncrieff was the guest speaker at the college's prizegiving yesterday, sharing the World of WearableArt's success story.

"Life is going to bring many twists and turns, and each of you will have to forge your own paths, but I urge you to follow your dreams. If you want to make a difference, think big and dream big - right from the start, but also remember that nothing comes without a huge amount of hard work," she said.

The inaugural WOW show was held in Spring Grove near Wakefield in 1987, with the creations paraded around a veranda. The audience sat on school forms under a marquee outside the cob cottage Dame Suzie converted into the William Higgins Gallery two years earlier.

Thousands of people now flock to the Wellington-based WOW show annually, and many of the entries are from overseas.

Dame Suzie took WOW to Hong Kong for its first public international show earlier this year, realising another dream - to see WOW recognised on the international stage.

She has removed herself from the day to day demands of WOW, and now dreams up new ideas from her home in Ruby Bay, works on the musical score, plans the creative content of the show, and oversees production.

But it wasn't all plain sailing for the former Waimea College student, who failed sixth form art, despite getting one of the highest marks in New Zealand - 93 per cent - in school certificate art the year before and being invited to try for the School of Fine Arts in Canterbury.

"My world collapsed around me, and all my dreams and hopes . . . they vanished. I found myself in a very desolate place. All I wanted to be was an artist. Right from my primary school days, art was my passion," she said.

Dame Suzie settled for teachers' training college, and took arts and crafts as an extra course option. She was "elated" when an art tutor noticed her sculptures and invited her to again try for art school on a studentship.

But she needed university entrance, which she didn't have as she had spent her sixth form year focused on English and art. Without it, she couldn't enter art school. "Once again, I was devastated. I packed up my paintbrushes and didn't touch art again until I turned 30."

It wasn't until she had a successful art exhibition in Wellington that she decided to make a go of it again and open her own gallery.

She renovated an old cob cottage in Wakefield, opened the William Higgins Gallery in 1985, and held the first "emotionally adventurous" WOW show as a gallery promotion two years later.

"It was clear from the first event that WOW was more than a one-off show. People were fascinated by the concept, and wanted more. I knew it was something special," she said.

Dame Suzie told the girls at Nelson College for Girls yesterday to "find something you love doing, and go for it".

"I encourage you to think big, believe in yourself, and don't let others define who you are," she said. "From the start I had this conviction . . . that I could make this [WOW] happen. Don't let that voice of doubt living in your head stand in your way of success. Be courageous."

- Nelson

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