December’s graduation ceremony will mark the end of an academic journey and the start of a year-long travel adventure for 21-year-old dancer Courtney Richmond, who has just completed a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in English and Theatre Studies.
Born in Levin and raised on the family beef and deer farm in Te Horo, Courtney came close to giving up dance until a careers adviser at Paraparaumu College persuaded her to apply for the Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarship at Waikato University. “I thought there was no chance of me actually winning it, but decided to apply anyway,” she says. “My application ended up being successful, and since deciding to come to Waikato I haven't looked back – it was the best decision I could’ve made.”
Established in 2005, the scholarship is worth up to $10,000 a year for fulltime undergraduate enrolment, and offers school leaver students personalised academic support, access to leading sports coaches and tutors in the arts, and a tailored leadership and personal development programme.
Currently on a summer research scholarship, Courtney is researching dance and wellbeing, with a particular focus on interventions through art practices and dance. “I enjoy researching the ways in which creative expression and both mental and physical health intersect,” she says. “Physical and creative expression is very important, and can lead to improved mental and physical health in our communities.”
Courtney plans to take a break from study next year to travel, before returning to Hamilton in 2020 to complete a masters degree at the University of Waikato. “The whole journey at Waikato has been amazing and I’m so thankful for all the opportunities that my degree has provided me with,” she says.
What made you choose to study here?
The thing that initially drew me to Waikato was the dance papers offered. I’ve been a dancer for as long as I can remember, and so the chance to continue that into my university career intrigued me. Being successful in my application for the Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarship sealed the deal.
What’s your favourite subject and why?
In 2017 I took the Community Dance paper and found myself wholeheartedly inspired by its approach to dance that I just couldn't get enough of it. The dance papers at Waikato have allowed me to be both physically active and mentally stimulated at the same time, and have challenged me to question, explore, and discover new ways of considering the world around us.
What does a typical day look like for you?
No two days are the same. I usually start my day with a to-do list, whether it be classes, meetings or running errands. I write it all down so that I can prioritise what needs to be done. In between classes, I spend time in the library, and work in the dance studio at the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts. As a Senior Residential Assistant, I often have to attend afternoon meetings, but manage to squeeze in a few minutes of soaking up some sun on the Village Green. The thing I love most about uni life is this diversity – every day brings something new.
What’s been the highlight of your degree?
It’s hard to choose just one, but a highlight from this past year would have to be the directed study I did with Associate Professor Karen Barbour on Community Dance. It offered me freedom to research and investigate in a way that was interesting and beneficial to me, rather than following criteria set out in a paper outline.
You’ve led a dance programme for Life Unlimited Charitable Trust. Tell us about that.
In July 2017 I volunteered to facilitate a six-week contemporary dance programme for not-for- profit organisation Life Unlimited, which provides opportunities for young people living with disability to get involved in a range of sports. The group of participants ranged in age and ability but everyone, including their mums, dads and siblings were welcome to join in. There were no expectations or requirements other than being willing to jump in and give things a go. I’ve loved working with this diverse range of students – they have challenged me and inspired me in ways I could not have imagined. The most important thing I learnt from this opportunity was that if we celebrate the things that make us unique, and embrace the moments of joy, then there’s no limit to the things we can achieve. Some days I’d turn up to these workshops exhausted after a long day at uni, and walk out smiling from ear to ear thanks to the participants’ energy and eagerness to try. It wasn’t just that they were getting better at dancing, they were also getting more confident in themselves – and that’s very rewarding.
How have you changed in your time at Waikato?
I’ve become a more authentic version of myself. I’ve been able to study the things that truly interest me, and to connect with people who align with my interests and values. I’ve found opportunities that have challenged and pushed me to consider what my place in society is. I see the world, and my place in the world, in a totally new light now and that’s the result of being pushed to question, inquire and discover my own answers and my own meaning through my studies here at Waikato.
What’s your number one tip for making the most of uni life?
Get out there and give things a go. Cliché as it may sound, you really just have to put yourself out there and be willing to try things and to laugh at yourself when you make mistakes – because it will happen, and that’s perfectly okay. There are so many amazing opportunities right in front of us, if we are willing to step out of our comfort zones just a little bit and try things.
What do you plan on doing once you’ve graduated?
That's the million dollar question! I’m taking a break next year to travel. Then the plan is to return to the University of Waikato for a masters in 2020.
Courtney is one of 1382 University of Waikato students graduating this December. There are two ceremonies at Claudelands on Tuesday 11 December, another two on Wednesday 12 December, and two ceremonies at Te Kohinga Marae on the University campus on Friday 14 December.