A teenage dropout has stuck to her studies and now her graphic design degree is in her sights, writes Louise Risk .
Two years ago a young Hamilton mother who dropped out of school at 14 was dreaming of walking across the graduation stage, making her friends and family proud.
Now, just weeks away from completing her graphic design degree, Tiffany Whaanga is not even sure she will make it to her graduation ceremony.
"To be honest, it's not my top priority.
"I'm not going to miss out on work to be there, but if I can come back I will.
"My mum wants me to be there."
Instead of focusing on the graduation stage, Miss Whaanga has her sights set firmly on Perth, and getting a graphic design job there as soon as possible.
When The Waikato Times first met Miss Whaanga in late 2010, she had just about completed her first year of study at Wintec and was determined to make up for her misspent youth, and make a better future for her sons Jayden, now 7, and Caleb, now 4.
That determination saw her getting Caleb up at 5.30am so she could walk the 45 minutes to the bus stop nearest to her rural Ngaruawahia home, and then drop him off to his daycare before her 8am classes.
The dedication was a far-cry from the girl who had racked up $12,000 in fines before she was 15 and spent time living on the streets of Auckland.
The daily commute from Ngaruawahia ended when Miss Whaanga moved back into Hamilton, but despite the move, a hectic schedule and two young boys have meant the past two years have not always been easy.
"It's actually been all on since I last saw you."
For one thing Miss Whaanga has found having flatmates and young children is not an easy combination.
Regular visits to her mother's home in Whangamata at the weekends when she has her boys, who also live with their dad, has taken some of the pressure off.
The road trips were made possible when an inheritance from her late Nana enabled Miss Whaanga to fulfil one of the medium-term goals she talked about two years ago: to buy a car.
"Yes, I have a car.
"And it's had a warrant and a registration the whole time I've had it, it's amazing."
The remainder of her inheritance has covered Miss Whaanga's printing costs - which was causing quite a strain based on the amount required to complete her graphic design course.
As well as studying fulltime, Miss Whaanga is working part-time at Wintec's marketing department and doing a couple of freelance design jobs on the side.
She says her tutors, who are aware of her financial difficulties, have been "fantastic" at passing small design jobs on to her.
One of those jobs was for the Christian Youth Camp in Ngaruawahia, and while in the end the job paid "about 25c an hour" it was an invaluable experience.
Miss Whaanga said seeing her logo emblazoned across the camp's vans recently had been a great reward.
As if she was not busy enough, Miss Whaanga had also been speaking on behalf of Wintec at seminars run by Work and Income, and at courses at Wintec to try to encourage other young people back into studying.
"You could tell they didn't want to be there, but I didn't care, I just told them what I was doing, what I had done."
Miss Whaanga has had the satisfaction of helping at least one other person back into the education system, a girl she met at a restaurant in Ngaruawahia.
"She wanted to go back to school but she didn't know how.
"She's doing the starter course here now. I saw her the other day, she was really happy."
The one thing that would make Miss Whaanga really happy now would be to secure a graphic design job in Perth where she has family, and where her partner is also based.
The logistics of the move are still being worked out but the plan is to go as soon as she knows she will not have to re-sit any papers, an unlikely situation given she has been a consistent A student during her time at Wintec.
"I've had enough of studying really.
"I just can't wait to have a job.
"I can't wait to walk into Work and Income and say ‘no thanks' for the benefit any more."
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