The University of Waikato graduation ceremony held today at the new Tauranga campus will see more than 115 students celebrate their achievements but for Education graduate Watene Moon, the occasion will be one of mixed emotions.
Just days ago, Watene attended his father’s unveiling in Ōmokoroa, the community that Murray Moon was an intrinsic part of. “My dad passed away last year during the middle of my third year teaching placement,” says Watene. “He’d been sick for 6 months prior to that and really sick for the last month. It was rough to go through.” While Watene will be surrounded by whānau and friends when he graduates with a Bachelor of Teaching (Primary), he knows his dad would’ve loved to see him walk the stage and deliver a speech on behalf of the Class of 2019.
Watene was born in Whakatāne at the same hospital where his parents, Margaret a nurse and Murray a patient, first met. The family spent a few years in Alice Springs, Australia before moving back to Tauranga where Watene attended Tauranga Primary, Intermediate and Boys’ College. After enjoying several successful years in the hospitality industry, Watene indulged his adventurous spirit through travel, eventually settling in Canada for eight years. In 2013 it was time to come home. Watene returned to help out with the family business – the Ōmokoroa Beach Store, the popular last stop before Matakana Island.
When Watene opted to embark on a path of tertiary study, a teaching degree at home in the Bay was the ideal choice to use the people skills gained through hospo and travel. “Having the Bachelor of Teaching offered here in Tauranga Moana made it a no-brainer,” he says. “The degree is unique because you learn a little bit of everything and you are put in situations of responsibility from the first week. It forces you to grow fast and adapt quickly which are good skills for any vocation, not just teaching.”
Watene threw himself into the University community in Tauranga from day one. He flourished in his roles as a Class Representative, Māori Student Mentor, Chairman of Māori student support group Mana Ake ki Tauranga Moana, and was selected for the Māori leadership programme Te Ahurutanga last year. Other highlights were his placements at Welcome Bay Primary, Ōpōtiki Primary and Greenpark School. He surprised himself when new entrant teaching became his favourite. “The honesty and freedom that little kids bring into the classroom was something I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did.”
Watene became a familiar face on and off campus and he has clocked up some serious Employability Plus Programme (EPP) hours in his role as a Student Ambassador. “I’ve gained so much from representing the University as a student ambassador. The communication skills, public speaking, connecting with diverse groups of people – it’s been one of the highlights of my studies.”
While most of his classmates secured teaching roles after their final placements, Watene couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t done just yet. Of Whānau-ā-Apanui, Ngāi Tai and Tainui descent, he re-enrolled to do the one year diploma, Te Tohu Paetahi a full immersion te reo Māori programme. He’s already halfway through and says it’s the best decision he could’ve made. Like many Te Tohu Paetahi tauira (students) before him, Watene describes the programme as “life changing”. Being able to recite the karakia whakakapi at the conclusion of his beloved dad’s unveiling was an honour that previously would’ve been reserved for his fluent speaking cousin. When Watene stood amongst his whānau and the words resonated from within, it was a special moment his dad would’ve appreciated and been immensely proud of.
“My heart lies in Te Ao Māori and I want to teach in Te Reo if possible,” he says. “I don’t know where the journey will take me from here but I’m excited for the possibilities.”