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

10 May 2017


Melanie Tregurtha and her son Finn

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

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

When Melanie, who goes by 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 (burial site) with a friend in Hastings, that Mel saw something that would change her lifes 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 she could not ignore. Aware 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 and applied to the Bachelor of Social Work the following year.

When two of Mel’s youngest children got sick it was nothing too 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 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, a consequence of his brain swell, meant he 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 the family’s health concerns, Mel’s resolve to finish what she’d started was strong. She returned to study part-time and went on to complete an honours year, graduating 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 the BSW is available in Tauranga, Mel felt it was the right degree, right place and right time for her. She’s still on the journey and will be knuckling down to more study when the graduation gown comes off this afternoon.