EIT Business Studies graduand says being Valedictorian is a significant award

Ashleigh Kearns-Steed
Ashleigh Kearns-Steed, who will be graduating with a Bachelor of Business Studies (Management) on Friday, says she was overcome with emotion when she was asked to be one of the two Hawke’s Bay valedictorians.

Ashleigh Kearns-Steed, who will be graduating with a Bachelor of Business Studies (Management) on Friday, says she was overcome with emotion when she was asked to be one of the two Hawke’s Bay valedictorians.

Not only is she graduating at one of two ceremonies at the Napier Municipal Theatre on Friday, but she will also be Valedictorian. It is an honour she does not take lightly.

“Well, it’s a significant award for not just myself, but my whānau, as well as I will be the first Kearns walking across the stage.”

“It’s a true honour. I’m extremely grateful to be able to represent my whānau as well as all who are graduating from EIT. It means the world, trust me, I cried heaps.”

Graduation is the culmination of a time of studies full of achievements. Last year Ashleigh was selected for the prestigious Te Hononga-ā-Kiwa scholarship, which recognises excellence in Māori students. The scholarship is a Māori student of excellence award, which has seen chosen students previously travel to Chile, Taiwan, and Ecuador. Ashleigh attended last year’s rōpū in Columbia.

It has been a long journey for the 25-year-old Ashleigh, who left high school at about 15, worked in retail for about six years, before spending some time in Italy.

“I did not think that I had the knowledge, and I didn’t realise that there was a pathway for me, especially any kind of educational pathway without carrying on my high school education.”

“I did not believe that I had a career path there for me. That was until I got back from my overseas travel, a korero with my brother and partner was sparked; inspiring me to apply for my business degree.”

Ashleigh has nothing but praise for EIT and her lecturers.

“I started at EIT when COVID first kicked in, so all lectures were based on teams, online. So that was a bit of a struggle, due to never having the experience of using a laptop before. The teachers, the lecturers were very transparent that it was a new setup for them as well. Together, we all learned how we could best make it work for one another. And we did. I still remember my first day going onto campus, and feeling the appreciation for face-to-face learning, there is a significant difference between the two types of learning.”

“I’m extremely grateful for the time that I had at EIT. Many of my friends went to large universities, and I did not realise how privileged I was to be able to generate relationships with my lecturers instead of just learning from them. There was always open opportunity for us to have korero with our teachers and they made that known. They went above and beyond for me in many circumstances.”

Since graduating, life has got even better for Ashleigh as she is now working for Te Kura i Awarua, EIT’s Māori research unit.

“I love my job; I have new opportunities each week to network and gain knowledge of the culture we have here in Te Matau-a-Māui. I’m extremely grateful for the chance to continue my learning of Te Ao Māori and continue to make a difference in the world. I wish I could revisit myself as a young girl and tell her the story I have made for myself so far; I just know little Ashleigh would be just as proud of me as I am now.”

Next stop for Ashleigh is a Masters, with the ultimate goal being a PhD.

Russell Booth, Senior Lecturer and Programme Co-ordinator – Business at EIT, said: “Ashleigh is an exceptional young woman both on and off campus. Once she arrived at EIT she quickly got into her stride with excellent grades. Ashleigh’s compassion and care for her whānau and community is unbounded and this was displayed in the classroom with her fellow students.”

“Ashleigh epitomises everything of a strong, young wahine student at EIT. Her resilience is huge having overcome many personal challenges and issues and clearly demonstrated with where she is today.”

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