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Tama ke ke loto to'a

Updated: Jun 15, 2022

I wrote this and submitted it for a platform that was looking for stories of women who are the first in their family to attend university. If you read this and you were the first in your family, high five! If you read this and you are going to be the first in your family to go for further education, don't worry. You'll be ok! Nothing is as scary as it seems and you've already come so far! If you read this and you're still on your journey, keep going. Remember those who paved the way for you and those who will follow after you. Tama ke ke loto to'a. With a heart full of love -Moni ________________________________________________ My physical features are distinctly Asian, but in my heart I am Pasifika. I am of mixed Tongan and Japanese descent, and in my Tongan side of the family, I am the first to attend and complete university. My Tongan father was a school teacher, and he was the sixth child of seven siblings. They had grown up on one of the smaller, poorer islands about 180 km away from the mainland. My grandfather was a fisherman, as were most of my father’s family. They would show me their calloused hands and their sunburnt faces and remind me life on the islands isn’t always an idyllic dream. There is no shame in coming from a family of fishermen, but it is not an easy job. You might catch a lot of fish today and make money. Tomorrow you might not catch anything and go hungry. You never know.

Within his family, my father was the first to complete secondary school, the first to get a diploma and the first to go on to get a job that wasn’t fishing. He was adamant that his children aim higher for a better future, and he instilled in us the value of education.

Following his footsteps of firsts, I went on to being the first in my family in attaining academic scholarships throughout high school, and another academic scholarship to the University of Auckland to complete my undergraduate degree. Now, a Chevening scholarship to complete my Masters in the UK. My father didn’t live long enough to see me graduate from University. If he was alive today, I like to think he would be quite happy with how far I’ve come.

Education ends the generational cycle of poverty, but breaking that cycle isn’t always easy. When you’re the first at something, you never quite know if you’re doing it right or doing it wrong because you’re setting the precedent. If you’re doing it right, you can inspire others to follow your footsteps. If you’re doing it wrong, all you can hope for is that others learn from your mistakes.

Issac Newton says ‘If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants’. What I have achieved so far are not based on my individual efforts alone. I have giants that inspired me, pushed me, helped me and believed in me to come this far. Now, I see my younger siblings, my younger cousins, my little nieces and nephews aiming higher, dream bigger, and working harder. Just as there were giants for me, from the bottom of my heart, I hope to be that giant for them too.

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