Graduation address: Indiana Shewen, Class of 2019

Traditionally, each Victoria University of Wellington graduation ceremony features an address by one of our newest graduates, who speaks on behalf of their peers. This honour is awarded to someone who, during their time at the University, has exemplified the qualities we seek to instil in all our graduates. This May, the address was given by Indiana Shewen (Te Atiawa and Ngāti Mutunga), who graduated with a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Māori Resource Management.

Indiana Shewen in graduation attire.

At the completion of her studies at Victoria University of Wellington, Indiana undertook a full immersion te reo Māori course at Te Wānanga Takiura in Auckland under the tutelage of Papa Tāwhiri Williams, Whaea Kā Williams and her kaiako Jamal Peeni. In her career she hopes to use her legal knowledge to address legal issues facing tangata Māori.

She dedicated her speech to her late mother Larissa Nellie McDonald, who passed away during Indiana’s first year of studies in 2014.

Mā wai rā e taurima, te kawe i waho nei?

Mā te tika, mā te pono, me te aroha e (Pao).[1]

Tuatahi, tēnei taku mihi ki te Chancellor me te Vice-Chancellor. E tautoko ana rāua ki ngā tauira kātoa, nō reira tēna kōrua ko Chancellor Neil Paviour Smith, ko Professor Grant Guilford.[2]

Tuarua, tēnei taku mihi ki, te Pro Vice-Chancellor. He tangata tino matatau ia, he tangata whakamauritau ia ki ahau, nō reira tēnā koe Professor Mark Hickford.[3]

Tuatoru, e mihi ana ahau ki ngā tangata whakapōtai katoa. Kei te tino poho kereru ōu whānau me ōu hoa ki a koutou. Nā te mea, he tangata tino pukumahi koutou.[4]

Nō reira, tenei taku mihi ki a koutou kātoa. Ko Indiana ahau, he uri ahau o ngā tangata o Te Atiawa, me Ngāti Mutunga hoki.[5]

Good afternoon University staff, fellow graduates, family, and friends.

I feel immensely privileged to stand before you today and address you all as your graduate speaker. Today we are here to celebrate our successes. Today we are the Victoria University of Wellington’s most recent graduates. But while we celebrate the amazing achievement of graduating from University, I think it is important that we reflect on the journey we’ve taken to get here today. I am speaking from personal experience when I say that many of us here have wondered if this day would ever come. This might cross our minds while sitting in the library with two essays due the next morning and a closed-book exam in the afternoon. The workload of a student can seem unbearable at points, and I think this is illustrated well by a conversation I once overheard in the library. A girl was crying and her friend came up to her and said, “Is it a boy? Or is it just because you’re doing a law degree?” It is true, getting a University degree is not easy, and I’m not just talking about the academic challenges.

Some of you graduating today have worked part-time jobs to support yourselves and your families during the course of your studies. Some of you travelled away from your homes and your families to be here. Some are parents, raising children. Some came back to University after making a change in your career. Some lost loved ones along the way. And many of you battled with your health –both physical and mental.

I would like to mihi to each of you for making it to this day. I believe it is truly an honour to celebrate with you today, because despite all of this—you prevailed.

Nō reira, tēnei taku whakataukī:[6]

Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, he toa takitini.

This is a whakatauki which many of you will probably know. It can be translated to say:

My strength is not mine alone, it is the strength of many.

While we graduates may think today is all about us, it really isn’t. I am certain that each of us can name people without whom we would not be walking across this stage today. This might be a tutor who gave their extra time to assist you, or a perhaps a family member who would send the occasional care package. It could be a lecturer who gave you empathy and support when life got in the way of studies. So on that note, I’d like to give thanks to the academics, tutors, and University staff for their incredible knowledge, patience and passion. Thanks also to our families and friends for going above and beyond to make sure that each of us got here.

On a personal note, I would like to thank three people without whom I wouldn’t be here today. First, Dr Carwyn Jones. Thank-you for fuelling my passion for the law, and for helping me to recognise that my māoritanga (māori culture) is the greatest tool which I can use as I embark on my legal career. Second, my Dad. Thank you for instilling in me the belief that I can achieve anything I set my mind to, so long as I put in the hard work. And finally, my Mum, te poutokomanawā o tōku ngakau (the pillar of my heart of emotions) who taught me the importance of using my University education to give back to others.

Last year, the New Zealand legal profession embarked on a painful but much needed journey revealing sexual abuse, bullying, and a lack of cultural leadership by key institutions. I was extremely proud of the response from Victoria University of Wellington students. This was demonstrated by the ‘March on Midland’ rally, which saw over 400 students, university staff and members of the legal profession join together to call for change.

To me, this cohort of graduates represent determination, intelligence, empathy, and passion for justice, and that helps me to know that with you all as leaders, the future of the our profession is in very safe hands.

This year we celebrated the appointment of Justice Joe Williams as our first Māori lawyer to become a judge of the Supreme Court. This is an amazing milestone for the legal profession, and it serves as an indicator of the direction in which our profession is going. In our careers, we will be asked to address major issues that have been entrenched in our professions for too long. It is up to us to ensure that we do everything that we can to improve our professions, and leave them in a better condition than we found them. As we go into the future, we can go knowing that our education at Victoria University of Wellington has given us a strong foundation on which to build our careers. I have absolute confidence that this cohort of graduates is well equipped for the challenge. Nō reira,

Ta piti hono tatai hono,

Te hunga mate ki te hunga mate,

Te hunga ora ki te hunga ora.[7]

Tēnā koutou kātoa.


[1] Who will tend to the ceremony now? Truth, honesty, and love will (improvised singing).

[2] Firstly, this is my acknowledgement to the Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor. Everyday these two people have shown their constant and unwavering support to all of the students here, therefore this is my acknowledgement to you both, Chancellor Neil Paviour Smith and Professor Grant Guilford.

[3] Secondly, this is my acknowledgement to the Pro Vice-Chancellor. In my opinion, he is an intelligent person, who holds leadership qualities through his ability to keep the peace and bring people together, therefore this is my acknowledgement to you Professor Mark Hickford.

[4] Finally, this is my unwavering acknowledgement to all of you people graduating here today. Right now, your family and friends are all very proud of each of you. This is because all of you have worked very hard.

[5] Therefore, this is my acknowledgement to all of you here today. My name is Indiana, I descend from the people of Te Atiawa and Ngāti Mutunga iwi.

[6] Therefore, I give you this māori proverb.

[7] Depths to depths, to blessed death to blessed death, to blessed life to blessed life.

To watch Indiana’s full graduation address, see bit.ly/indiana-shewen