Savai'i lass wins awards, scholarships in Auckland

The leadership qualities and academic mastery of a former St Mary’s student from Savai’i has enabled her to win three awards and five scholarships in New Zealand.

Ronette Francella Vaai – who is currently in Year 13 and is the Deputy Head Girl of the Mount Albert Grammar School in Auckland – was recognised last Friday during a celebration of Pasifika students in academia, sports and performing arts and service.

Ms Vaai was recognized for her leadership as the Deputy Head Girl and Prefect Komiti Faufautua 2018-2020 by the Mount Albert Grammar School Pasifika Council. 

She also received awards for the Year 13 Pacifika Excellence Student, the Tupuola Apisaloma Taulapiu Cup for Cultural Leadership and the Ulugia-Pua Award for Outstanding Service at the Mount Albert Grammar School.

Five scholarships were also offered to the former St Mary’s student: the Auckland University of Technology Undergraduate School Leaver Scholarship Award; the University of Waikato for Pacific Excellence Scholarship; and the Edna Money Future Pacific Leaders Scholarship.

Two other scholarships were offered by the University of Otago; the Edward Connolly Faculty of Engineering Scholarship; and the Faculty of Business and Economics Scholarship. 

In her speech at the occasion last Friday, the Year 13 student said 2020 was a year of challenges, but she remained optimistic nevertheless. 

 “We all know that 2020 is not the best year we’d hoped for, it was not like any year at all, I know we're all tired of hearing it but it has been such a special rollercoaster ride for everyone,” she said.

“The class of 2020 is going down in Mount Albert Grammar School history and the fact that you all pulled through and made it here tonight is a testament of how great and awesome you all are.

“We still have our share of loving memories, great laughs, tears, strong friendships, silly moments, failures, triumphs and the warm feeling of family between one another.” 

She then acknowledged and congratulated the Pasifika school leavers of 2020 for holding down the fort all the way. 

Ms Vaai said that moving from Samoa with a school population of roughly 600 at St Mary’s College, to a school of 3000 students at the Mount Albert Grammar School, is a big transition from totally different settings and environment.

“Dream big and drive life to the fullest,” she added.

She also acknowledged her teachers on how they impacted the lives of the Year 13 students and especially the Pasifika community.

“I would not have the commitments, opportunities and responsibilities I have today if it weren’t for your guidance, mentoring and tough love. 

“You have done nothing but open doorways, improve and help me strive for excellence in not just academics but in all aspects of life.” 

Ms Vaai also acknowledged her parents who were unable to attend her graduation due to the border shutdown. 

“Everything I do is to make you both proud and is my way of showing my gratitude for all the blood sweat and tears day and night seven days a week 365 days a year. 

“I stand on this stage to receive these awards on your behalf and I thank our heavenly father for blessing me with such loving and supportive parents. 

“And this is honestly the greatest blessing of all. That is a testament of how strong and defined your support was for me and the same goes to all my precious siblings.” 

She further acknowledged her mother’s teaching to instil in her the essence of kindness, love and patience. 

“Thank you for being my amazing role model in everything you do and for instilling such graceful virtues in all your Children. I strive to be the amazing and strong woman that you are today.” 

Ms Vaai added that her father taught her the importance of perseverance, hard work and family principles. 

“You have taught me how to be independent but also how to work and treat those around me. You are a man of service which is something that has lived through generations and generations of my Va’ai family.”

She then concluded by reminding her Pacifika classmates to enjoy life.

“And most importantly enjoy yourselves and be kind to yourselves as well. My dad would always say do what you do with joy and love, and that has helped me a lot over the years. 

“I hope it sticks and helps you guys as well.”

The daughter of Rosie Ripley and Tupa’i Saleimoa Vaai, Ronette hails from Vaisala, Safotu and Faleapuna. She moved to New Zealand when she was in Year 11.

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