PhD couple share graduation success

31 August 2022

Surrounded by family members and wearing colourful ula around their necks, a Samoan couple has celebrated achieving their PhDs together at a graduation event in Christchurch.

  • Saili Aukuso and Levi Simeona Tavita

    Saili Aukuso and Levi Simeona Tavita have graduated with PhDs from the University of Canterbury. They attended a graduation celebration event together at the Christchurch Arena today.

Sustainable Development Goals 4 - Quality Education

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 - Quality Education

Saili Aukuso, 60, and Levi Simeona Tavita, 64, attended Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) Graduation Celebration at the Christchurch Arena today.

They were among the 1500 students to attend four graduation events held over the past three days. The celebrations are the first to be held in person since April 2021 because of Covid-19.

Saili, who completed her PhD in Education studying Samoan children’s early literacy development, says it was “very special” to graduate with partner Levi. The couple, who were both born in Samoa, have been together for 22 years.

“I think it was meant to be for us to walk in the same ceremony. It means a lot to me and my family and I think it’s very unusual for a Samoan couple to be graduating with PhDs together. We want to set an example, especially for the young ones.”

Levi, whose PhD in Pacific Studies was focused on the dilemma of power relations in Samoa, had family members travel from Australia and Hawaii to share the occasion.

He says it wasn’t planned that he would graduate with Saili, but the timing had worked out. When Saili began her PhD in 2017, he decided it was an opportunity for him to do the same, after already completing a Master of Arts in languages. “I thought maybe it’s time for me.”

Both have a teaching background, with Saili training at the Christchurch College of Education 16 years ago. They met while working at a school in Auckland.

Saili is now working as a researcher on the Better Start Literacy Approach, a programme that helps teach children to read and has been introduced in hundreds of primary schools around the country, led by University of Canterbury Professor Gail Gillon.

Levi is a director of the Niupac Trust which specialises in bilingual education. “It’s good to be useful”, he says. “We also like to empower others, especially Pasifika youth.”

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