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Best friends graduate together after finding their calling at EIT | Te Pūkenga

August 23, 2023

Monty Karena (left) and Savanna Wharehinga with their certificates at the urupa of their much-loved tutor Ron Dennis.

Two best friends who met while studying at EIT | Te Pūkenga finished how they started – together – when they graduated on Friday.

Two hundred and forty graduates received their qualifications at two graduation ceremonies held at Toitoi – Hawke’s Bay Arts & Events Centre in Hastings on Friday (18 August).

Consistently top two in the class since they enrolled in the NZ Certificate in Te Reo Māori [Level 2],  Savanna Wharehinga (Ngāti Porou) and Monty Karena (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngātiwai) will both graduate with a Bachelor of Arts (Māori).

The pair, who had originally enrolled separately in the Certificate in Social Sciences in 2017 to become social workers, changed programmes when they were welcomed into Te Ūranga Waka, the School of Māori Studies in the first week.

“I think we were there for two days at Te Ūranga Waka, and then decided that that’s where we wanted to stay and keep studying,” Savanna says.

“We didn’t know it then, but we could feel something while we were there that was like ‘oh, this is where we’re supposed to be. And this is what we need to do’.”

Monty believes it was their calling. “We feel like te reo Māori found us”.

Savanna, now 39-years-old and a mother of three worked at McDonalds for 17 years. While 33-year-old Monty, a mother of four, had worked at various meat works since leaving high school and had just returned home from Australia after having twin boys, now seven-years-old.

“I just didn’t want to go back to the meat works. I swore to myself, ‘I’m never going back there’. So, I did whatever I needed to do,” Monty says.

The transition to study was the same for Savanna.

“I had had enough of working at McDonald’s, and I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life.”

Having the opportunity to study and forge a new path was something they both took in their stride.  

“When we first started studying, we didn’t know we were nerds, but we found out we actually are.” Monty says.

Throughout their time at EIT | Te Pūkenga, Savanna and Monty say they have felt supported by Kaimahi and peers, who are more like whānau. They credit a lot of this to Pareputiputi Nuku, Pouarataki, Te Ūranga Waka and their late tutor Ron Dennis.

Ron’s passing last year affected them deeply.

“It really took a toll on us, our whole unit in Te Ūranga Waka. It was really devastating, and we didn’t think we were going to make it through,” Monty admits.

“He really embraced us and his whole whānau did also. He was like a dad to us and we were just really lucky to be a part of his circle.”

They say it was Ron who inspired them to keep going.

“We knew what he would say to us if we withdrew, because he always told us ‘don’t be dumb, don’t be a tou kūare!’. Don’t make dumb decisions when you’re in an emotional state’, That’s what pushed us through, we wanted to make him proud, so we could say to him, ‘we finished it’,” Savanna says.

“We had a little graduation at Te Ūranga Waka last year, at the end of the year, and we went out to see him at the urupā, and took our certificates and said, ‘Look, we finished. We finished the year’,” Monty says.

Savanna is now a tutor at Te Ūranga Waka, teaching the NZ Certificate in Te Reo me Ngā Tikanga [Level 4].

Monty was a Kaiwhakaako at Te Ūranga Waka up until last week when she began work at Kauwaka – an organisation established in 2020 as a vehicle to contribute to the language and cultural revitalisation efforts within Ngāti Kahungunu. 

“We are definitely grateful for the opportunities that we have been given because we didn’t ask for it. Like we said, it’s where we’re supposed to be. And we’re on the path that we’re supposed to be on because everything’s just taken care of itself,” Monty says.

Savanna says: “We’re on the path that out tīpuna (ancestors) dreamed for us”.

While they have now finished their degree, Savanna and Monty both agree it is not the end of their journey with te reo Māori.

“It’s made us realise that if we want to carry on with our reo journey, we are responsible for that ourselves. Learning te reo Māori is a never-ending journey, so I don’t think we’ll ever stop learning.”

Pareputiputi Nuku, Pouarataki, Te Ūranga Waka, says: “Monty and Savanna stand out with their beautiful singing voices and bubbly personalities and as strong, confident, and skilled wāhine/kaiwhakaako”.

“I believe without a doubt Ron would be absolutely stoked about their achievements as we all are. Poho kereru ana mātau katoa i a kōrua. Nō kōrua te ao!”