Online Scholars’ Assembly

Published September 2, 2020. Tags:  Old Girls  Our Girls

Our 2019 Scholars were recognised at our very first online Scholars’ Assembly during Auckland’s August lockdown. A highlight of the event, a powerful speech by Old Girl Asena Tolungamaka, who spoke about embracing and celebrating our uniqueness.

Our annual Scholars’ Assembly is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate our girls’ impressive academic results. Due to lockdown, this year’s assembly was held online for the very first time, and although we were unable to see the girls smiling faces, the event was an extremely special one that will have a special place in St Cuthbert’s history.

Our 2019 results were very impressive, the NCEA Level 1-3 girls’ Excellence and Merit endorsements were 30 percentage points higher than other decile 8 – 10 schools, 37% of our IB girls attained a mark of 40 or more out of 45 compared with 14% worldwide, and we had two top national scholars in NZQA Scholarship, the highest examination possible at Secondary School level. Cybella Maffitt and Joy Tong were acknowledged in a special awards ceremony at Parliament House, earlier in the year where Cybella received the award for Media Studies, and Joy received her award for Latin. 

Our girls are supported by our inspiring and dedicated teachers who really go the extra mile to help students discover their unique strengths and passions, and we would like to acknowledge their role in this as well as our amazing parents.

While exam results are one measure of a school’s success, St Cuthbert’s is committed to unlocking every girl’s potential. An integral part of delivering a world class education, is ensuring that girls leave school with resilience and confidence in who they are. We were absolutely thrilled to have Old Girl Asena Tolungamaka as our guest speaker at the Online Scholars’ Assembly, who is one of our finest examples of this.

In our Principal Justine Mahon’s words “Asena was an absolute star at school – everyone loved her because of her sensitive, caring, and inclusive approach. Hugely capable, with a maturity beyond her years and a burgeoning sense of social justice, Asena was an outstanding Prefect in her final year. She showed initiative and enterprise in the way in which she approached all projects and was generous spirited in the way in which she encouraged others to shine.”

Asena represented St Cuthbert’s in top competitions in Netball and Athletics and was a pivotal member of choirs and Kapa Haka, all while finding time to umpire and coach younger students. She was awarded a Vice Chancellor’s Scholarship to study law and arts at Auckland University and is currently Foreign Policy Officer for the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Asena speech was extremely touching, reminding us of the power of embracing all of who we are. Please read on for her powerful speech in full.

Kia ora, Mālō e lelei & hello everyone! Firstly, congratulations to all our Scholars. Your hard work, perseverance, and work ethic especially during a global pandemic is incredible. I hope you celebrate and reward yourselves especially our two top Scholars. If you didn’t get an award today, that’s okay. You all have beautiful lives ahead of you so keep at it and keep going.

The reason why I’m incredibly excited and a little bit emotional to be speaking to you all today is for the simple but significant fact that St Cuthbert’s College changed my life.

You see, I started St Cuthbert’s as this taller-than-average, brown kid from Mangere. Where everyone else’s parents were driving range rovers and Jeeps, my dad dropped me off to school in his Bongo van. I stood out here whether I liked it or not. And when you’re transitioning into a new school, I didn’t want to stand out – I just wanted to fit in.

However, as I’ve grown up and seen more of the world, the things about me that made me feel different – being brown and being from South Auckland have become some of my greatest strengths. And that is what I wanted to talk about today.

My time at St Cuthbert’s taught me amazing life lessons that put me on the path to experience truly once-in-a-lifetime moments. From being given an award by our Prime  Minister, Jacinda Ardern in my very hometown of Mangere to having a yarn with our Deputy Prime  Minister Winston Peters in Vanuatu on the Pacific Mission, to working at New Zealand’s embassy in Hawai’i, one of the most important lessons I learnt at St Cuthbert’s which enabled me to experience all of this, was the power in embracing all of who I am.

You might not be a brown kid from Māngere. Or you might just be. But I do know that you are unique, you are special and the world needs someone exactly like YOU – in all your glory, your strengths, your flaws, your weirdness, your highs and your lows. This world is waiting for you to impact it if that’s what you want to do, and your time at St Cuthbert’s is preparing you to do exactly that.

I don’t speak theoretically, I speak from experience. The more I learnt and experienced at St Cuthbert’s, the more I grew to learn about myself, where I grew up and the mark I wanted to make in the world. Growing up in Māngere where unused potential and poverty were everywhere but going to school at St Cuthbert’s where I had a quality education, countless opportunities and a supportive network at my fingertips; I knew I was incredibly fortunate & wanted to use this education & these opportunities to positively impact Māngere and the people in these communities whose voices are often unheard or silenced.

I didn’t truly grasp this while I was at school but everything I was learning since I started in Year 7 was preparing me to do just that. From my speech lessons to experiencing Kahunui to Mrs. Ali’s writing class to Mrs. Foote’s English class (where I got told off a couple times for being too loud); every nugget of knowledge was something that added to the buffet of life skills that I would later utilise at the most opportune moments – whether it’s having to say a speech in front of hundreds of people to publishing articles about social justice issues that gain public exposure & traction, or beginning at university and already being at an advantage because of my time here; every lesson was valuable. Even the ones which I didn’t think were useful at the time – the lessons I had to learn through pain. The friendship dramas, the family issues and the problems to do with boys (which I thought was the end of the world) – even these experiences during high school were actually just making me stronger, wiser and more resilient. And I needed to be all of this to take on the world that I’m taking on now.

I know we’re living in a world that can make even the strongest person nervous and anxious, but the beauty of experiencing this is that it will shape you, it will grow you and it will teach you lessons that you’re going to use to change this world.

I know it’s even harder because you have to deal with so much, in addition to a global pandemic. I remember what it was like just to be a teenager trying to get through high school so I can only imagine what you’re feeling right now. But trust me when I say you’ll be more than okay. So, keep at it, keep going and keep being exactly who you are. That’s all you need in this world. And this world needs you.

Mālō ‘aupito. Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.