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Last weekend was a big one for Dunedin sisters Sharna Morgan and Tiana Smith, who finally crossed the stage of the Dunedin Town Hall on Friday 23 July as part of Otago Polytechnic’s graduation ceremony.

Like many others, Sharna (on the left) and Tiana (on the right) were denied the chance to celebrate graduation in December 2020 then March this year, as the events were cancelled because of, firstly, a threat and, secondly, a Covid-19 alert level change.

The sisters, who will be joined by more than 280 graduands at the Dunedin event (another 2200 people will graduate in absentia), were looking forward to sharing their success with whānau and friends.

“My whakapapa is my connection to my whānau, tupuna, iwi and marae. Whakapapa is my identity – the more I embrace it, the more I feel whole,” says Sharna, who graduated with a New Zealand Certificate in Health and Wellbeing (Social and Community Services).

“I celebrated my graduation with my family and kids prior and, following the official ceremony, headed to Hanmer Springs for some self-care and celebration with friends.”

Tiana, who graduated with the New Zealand Certificate in Whānau Ora (a collaborative programme with the Arai Te Uru Kōkiri Training Centre), also planned to enjoy a celebration dinner with whānau.

“This has been a long wait to graduate due to Covid-19 and the bomb threat. I am happy to finally graduate from a paper I am so proud of achieving,” Tiana said.

“I have been a part of Kōkiri Training Centre since 2009. I came here after leaving high school, not knowing where I wanted to go or wanted to be.”

A dozen years later, Tiana has several qualifications from both Kōkiri and Otago Polytechnic, including a New Zealand Diploma in Business (Project Management), “which I achieved while pregnant with my second child. That was a hard road, but I did it,” she reflects.

Like her sister and wider whānau, Sharna has strong connections to Kōkiri (she completed the Certificate in Whanau Ora in 2019). In fact, she and Tiana now work at the South Dunedin-based training establishment.

“Life doesn't stop when you study and I experienced situations in my personal life that I thought I would never endure,” Sharna says.

“The team at Kōkiri has changed over the years, but the desire to grow, uplift and educate any person that walks through the door is a core value that I still witness today.”

Tiana agrees: “The staff made me feel like I belonged and helped me throughout.

“I plan to stay at Kōkiri under my amazing boss, Sarah Martin, and make this campus thrive!”

Published on 22 Jul 2021

Orderdate: 22 Jul 2021
Expiry: 22 Jul 2023