Mum, I’m going to university!

5 May 2017


Maryjane Pulham

In 2013 Maryjane Pulham took a deep breath and made the decision to tackle a Bachelor of Arts degree, a decision made just two weeks before the semester began. On Friday, she celebrates her graduation – and triumph over clinical depression – at the University of Waikato’s Te Kohinga Mārama Marae graduation ceremony.

Maryjane’s depression hit hard in her final year at Waiheke High School. She took a gap year to get better but it wasn’t quite enough. “At the end of that year, I remember sitting down at my computer and crying because I felt absolutely useless,” she says. “My anxiety was so bad that it had manifested into quite severe agoraphobia and I just felt like I basically couldn't do life anymore.”

A university Facebook advertisement changed everything. “It was as if a switch flicked on in my head and all of a sudden I knew that I needed to go to university.” She says when she stumbled upon the University of Waikato website, she knew that was where she wanted to be. Two weeks before semester started, she applied without telling anyone. “I told my mum that she needed to take me to Hamilton because I was going to university.”

She says high school teachers told her she wasn’t smart enough to study screen and media. “But in my year of depression, I realised that’s what I wanted to study.” When times got tough during her studies, she says her sister, PhD student Joni Gordon, was always there to support her. Her mum Trisha, despite living in Australia, was also on hand. “She is my biggest fan and deserves the world and one day I will give it to her,” Maryjane says. Now she’s studying honours for a Bachelor of Media and Creative Technologies and telling the stories of her people with her new skills.

Maryjane is creating a web-series about identity, intersectionality, and Māoritanga. “It's about Māori issues by a Māori,” she says. “All I want to do in my life is promote Māori culture so we don’t have to fight for it anymore.” She credits lecturer Louis Mendiola for her love of web-series.

“I have spent my degree learning skills that allow me to tell the stories of my people the way they want them to be shown,” she says. “I want to create a career that is built on encouraging, demonstrating and showing the absolute beauty that is Māori culture.”

Nearly 1000 students are graduating at University of Waikato ceremonies in May, with three ceremonies on Wednesday 3 May at Claudelands in Hamilton, one at the university’s Te Kohinga Mārama Marae on Friday 5 May, and another in Tauranga on Wednesday 10 May.