"Excel in your own personal way. Compete with yourself but not with others. God will give you a way and he will guide you to wherever you go in life.”
Those were the parting words from the 16-year-old who was named Saint Mary’s College’s Dux for 2016. She is Renee Afelē, the eldest daughter of Fuimaono Camillo Afelē and Beatrice Afelē.
Ms. Afelē has roots in the villages of Palisi, Ululoloa, Lepā, Vailoa Palauli, Fasito’o-uta, Falevao, Vailoa Faleata, Sapapali’i and Salani Falealili.
On top of being named Dux, Ms. Afelē also collected the prizes for Top Student in English, Mathematics, Economics, Accounting, History and Commerce.
Ms. Afelē immediately credited God for her success.
“God is my guardian; he lights up my darkness and gives me hope. I thank him for the gift of wisdom, understanding, knowledge and patience,” said Ms. Afelē.
Secondly, she thanked her parents for their continuous love and support.
“You are my first teachers and you had molded me to be the person I am today. It is your faith that has pushed me beyond my limits.”
And although her father couldn’t make it to her graduation, her two grandmothers and grandfather, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, were in the crowd to join the celebration.
“Thank you to my grandparents, my Nana Sa’ilau, Nana Gillian and Papa.”
Ms. Afelē said she draws her inspiration from her grandfather Tuilaepa.
He may be the Prime Minister of Samoa, but to Renee, he will always be her hardworking Papa.
“My Papa started from humble beginnings as a child who had limited access to basic necessities. He once told me in his younger years when all he ate was taro,” she said.
“He told tales of his trips to town and explained how he had his first ice-cream at the age of seven. He earned a scholarship to go to Auckland University in New Zealand. He was a small town man, living in an Uptown world and it was tough.
“Soon after, he had a family and he provided for each and every one of them. He went to government and he is now the leader of our beautiful Samoa.
“Papa was and is a hardworking man, ensuring the welfare of his family as well as our country. He taught me that whoever you are, wherever you’re from, whatever status you have, as long as you have faith in God, and you believe in yourself, you can do great things.
“Thank you papa.”
And with her grandfather being the first Samoan to obtain a Master's Degree in Commerce from the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, Ms. Afelē also wants to be an Accountant in the future, like her grandfather and father.
Finally, she thanked thank St. Mary’s College for making her the person she is today.
“This school has given me so much starting from Year 9 up to where I currently am today. S.M.C gave me my resurrection. Because before the awards, before the trophies and before St. Mary’s College, I had low confidence in myself.
“I never walked up these stairs before to get awards nor was I a top student. I sat there, and admired those who walked up to get their awards.
“So this school is a big part of my life, because you gave me the chance to renew my life and make the change.”
As the valedictorian for this year, she encouraged the students to believe in themselves and to trust the Lord always.
“Today is all not about me, it is about everyone who was with you along the road to where you are today.
“You are nothing less than what you are; we are all unique in our own ways. Don’t put yourself down because you became last in class, or you didn’t get an award today. Do not compare yourself to everyone else.
“Compare yourself to yourself excel in your own personal way. Compete with yourself but not with others.
“God will give you a way and he will guide you to wherever you go in life.”
Christobell Savai’inaea Paulo came 2nd in Year 13 level and Fiona Sapatu came 3rd.