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EIT Valedictorian happy to be graduating after tough times during degree

April 9, 2024

Travis Sumner will graduate as one of two EIT Hawke’s Bay Valedictorians after his time studying for a Bachelor of Teaching (Primary).

Travis Sumner will graduate as one of two EIT Hawke’s Bay Valedictorians after his time studying for a Bachelor of Teaching (Primary) was made tougher by COVID-19, Cyclone Gabrielle and kidney stones.

Travis, 41, says he was surprised to be chosen as a Valedictorian for one of the graduation ceremonies to be held at the Napier Municipal Theatre on Friday.

“It was quite unexpected. It is quite special for me and for my family. I’ve really enjoyed my degree, so I knew that my academic results were up there and I knew that I’d done quite well. Some people might try to aim for it, but it was something out of the blue for me.”

Travis, who is from Hawke’s Bay and went to St. John’s College, says he has wanted to be a teacher since he was about 17 years old. He remembers clearly when he initially decided he wanted to be a teacher. He was due to sit a Bursary oral exam for te reo Māori, but was nervous so skipped school instead.

“Lo and behold, just after nine o’clock there was a knock at my door and I peeked out the window and it was my Māori teacher from St John’s, Paul Blake, and he had come to pick me up because he must have realised that I was a bit scared and that, and he managed to tell me it was going to be alright.”

“We jumped in his car and we came over to Hastings to sit our examinations and I ended up passing with flying colours and I did really well. What he did for me really sparked the fire and made me want to become a teacher as well.”

After studying at a teachers’ college, however, he found himself gravitating towards hospitality and bar management.

“I ended up progressing away from teaching, but it was always in the back of my mind, like I really wanted to tick that box. I spent 26 years in hospitality and started my own business for weddings and functions and things like that and learning. I decided that it weighed quite heavily on my family time, which I enjoy. I kind of lost my why in hospitality because it was just seven days a week.”

“I have gone back to the classroom as an adult and really enjoyed my learning. A lot of the cultural stuff I did at high school came back to sort of be a wealth of knowledge for me throughout this degree. So I’ve been able to help people with their te reo Māori and things like that.”

Travis says that the journey through his degree was arduous.

“Obviously we had COVID and then we had the Cyclone (Gabrielle), but I also had kidney stones for a lot of my degree. I ended up getting my surgery put off six times and going in and out of hospital while I was trying to study as well, as well as being the sole income for my family because my wife looked after my two boys, Cayden and Lacelle.”

“So it’s been a pretty hectic three years doing all that, working obviously at the restaurant and studying as well. It was mentally draining and I got into a bit of a dark place about having my surgery put off so many times. It was hard to be on placement with kidney stones and still try to teach in the classroom, still try to produce the results that I wanted because I have a high expectation of myself.”

Travis pays tribute to his wife, Amanda, for standing by him during his studies.

“She’s probably the backbone of everything I’ve achieved because we’ve been together for 20+ years now, and yeah, she’s just very supportive of anything that I need to achieve.”

“My parents have also been there by my side and supported me through my studies which I am incredibly grateful for.”

Travis, who is now teaching at Bledisloe School in Taradale, says he encourages more people, particularly young males, to enter the industry as it is very rewarding.

“I am loving my time at Bledisloe School. It is an amazing school to begin my career.”

Associate Professor Emily Nelson, Programme Coordinator, Bachelor of Teaching (Primary) & Acting Assistant Head of School, says they are thrilled that Travis has been chosen as Valedictorian.

“He inspired all of us throughout his degree – Candidate Teachers and Teacher Educators alike – for his passion, his mātauranga and his commitment through some really tough circumstances. Tamariki and kura for years to come will benefit from his unique and powerful presence as a Kaiako.”