Study goals a sweet surprise for Tauranga mum-of-four

10 May 2017


Melanie Tregurtha and her son Finn

For self-confessed “ungirly girl” Melanie Tregurtha, preparations for what to wear to graduation are not high on her list of priorities. The Otumoetai mum-of-four graduates today with a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) with First Class Honours from the University of Waikato. She is more concerned about the due date of her next assignment as she now works toward gaining her master’s degree.

The former Manurewa High School student recalls trying hard at school but didn’t consider herself a remarkable student and “university wasn’t an option”. Her passion outside of school was dance. She’d studied jazz and ballet to a level where she could teach so she jumped the ditch and taught dance in Australia.

When Mel returned to New Zealand a few years later, she met partner Hamish and they settled in Auckland with Mel trying her hand at all manner of jobs. Three children later, the family moved to Tauranga where Mel worked in a timber yard before studying landscaping.

It was 2011, while visiting an urupā with a friend in Hastings, that Mel saw something that would change her life path. It was the grave of James Whakaruru. The Hawke’s Bay toddler died in 1999 after a prolonged beating by his step-father, the last in a series of many he had endured in his short life. The sight of James’ grave stirred up emotions in Mel that would not be ignored. Aware that similar tragedies were still occurring in this country, she realised blaming the system and expecting the problem to be someone else’s to fix was futile. She applied to the Bachelor of Social Work the next year.

When her youngest two got sick it was nothing out of the ordinary for Mel. Bree soon recovered from her tummy bug. Finn didn’t. When the five-year-old’s condition worsened, an anxious trip to A&E confirmed that things weren’t good. Finn was flown by Westpac helicopter to Auckland’s Starship Children’s Hospital. When he was diagnosed with encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, there was a very real fear he might not survive.

The decision was made for Mel to stay with him while the rest of the family returned to Tauranga. Finn recovered but had to re-learn everything - how to eat, walk, talk and express emotions. It was four months before mum and son returned home to continue Finn’s rehabilitation.

Throughout these family health issues, Mel’s resolve to finish what she’d started was strong. She returned to part-time studies and went on to complete an honour’s year, finishing with first class honours.

“I did a lot of late nights once the kids were in bed and luckily I work well under pressure!”

Grateful that the BSW was available in Tauranga, it was the right degree, right place and right time for Mel. She’s still on the journey and she’ll be knuckling down to more study when the graduation gown comes off.