Graduation goal is bittersweet for Canterbury student
28 August 2023
Austen Rangi knows his mum would have been proud to watch him walk across the stage at his upcoming graduation celebration in Christchurch.
Sadly, she died last December after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018 when he was just starting his studies at Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC).
“My mum would have loved to be part of my graduation,” he says. “She was so supportive about whatever I wanted to do. It was hard for her when I left home in Wellington to come to Christchurch, but she was also happy for me to go on my next adventure.”
Austen (Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Kahungunu) has overcome a battle with depression sparked by his mother’s illness to complete a Bachelor of Science with a major in Philosophy.
He’ll be one of more than 600 students attending the University of Canterbury’s two spring graduation celebrations at the Wolfbrook Arena on 29 August. He will also join Eke Tangaroa, a UC celebration for ākonga Māori and their whānau, on 30 August.
Austen says his mental health had a big impact on his performance at university, to the point where he thought he might not be able to finish his degree. “I got some help from the UC Health Centre and Māori student support and managed to overcome my depression and improve my grades.”
He went from struggling to pass to achieving A grades for all his courses in the last 18 months and he is excited to have found a job as a senior support officer for a government agency in Ōtautahi Christchurch.
“If my experience is anything to go by, Māori students can succeed above and beyond what they believe they are capable of, even through those challenging times,” he says.
Together with the support and guidance he has received, Austen says what really stands out for him are the connections he has made with people during his time as a student.
“In my first year, I met some other students who were into music, and we formed a band called Castaway. We are still together five years later and even flat together. The people I met during my time at UC have become my closest friends and these friendships will be lifelong.
“When I left Wellington, I really felt the absence of my whānau and my culture. But, after connecting with mentors like Kaiurungi Matua of UC Māori, Thomas Hamilton, I grounded myself with a new whānau who embraced me in that uniquely Māori way we all know and love,” he says.
Hamilton says while there were some stumbles along the way, Austen’s determination to make his whānau proud gave him the focus to turn things around and earn his tohu (degree). “It has been a privilege to watch Austen grow and achieve his goals. I really admire his strength of character and the way he kept going even when he was struggling. UC Māori are all proud of his achievement.”
Austen says he owes everything to his dad, Robert Rangi, and his late mum, Cheryl Ashford. His father is travelling to Christchurch for the graduation celebration, along with his sister and grandfather.
The University of Canterbury’s Spring graduation ceremonies at Wolfbrook Arena:
Tuesday 29 August, 10am:
- Qualifications in the UC Business School, Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Law
Tuesday 29 August, 2pm:
- Qualifications in the Faculty of Engineering, Faculty of Education, Faculty of Health, Faculty of Science
- Email: email@example.com Ph: (03) 369 3631 or 027 503 0168
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