For Toakahu Pere, life is about learning from past experiences to secure a bright future. The 18-year-old is one of St John’s College’s most outstanding students, and his leadership skills led to him being appointed as Maaori leader at the school in 2015.
He has excelled in a number of disciplines at school – academically, he is a top student and received an award as the school’s top English student in Year 12 in 2014. He is involved in drama, is a talented writer and speechmaker and also plays rugby.
These achievements are remarkable, especially considering that Toakahu had an especially difficult start to life. He witnessed and was subject to domestic violence and was exposed to gang activity from an early age.
“Walking through the door and finding smashed bottles, items of women’s clothing, blaring music and screaming and laughing as the smell of smoke and alcohol threw itself at me,” he remembers. “It seemed almost ritualistic where I’d come home, go into my room and just do my best to get some homework done until my father would come in and give me a ‘hiding’ for not coming to say hello to my ‘uncles and aunties’. Truth is, I’d never met any of them before nor did I see any of them afterwards. I remember taking one long look on a Wednesday morning at these surroundings, then looking outside at my friends who waited by my letter box with a spare bike and helmet for me and then deciding what was best for me: I got on the bike. All of this, at the ripe age of 10. ’
He credits his memories of his grandfather as being instrumental in this change, prompting him to step away from this behaviour entirely and pursue another path.
“It was at my Papa’s house that I used memories of him and the stories I was told as a driving force for change. And using my Papa himself as a ’stopper’ and a final decision to pursue a path that will benefit me and others…”
His teachers and mentors can testify to the remarkable journey he has taken in the last few years.
Brain Sparrow, his guidance counsellor has particularly noticed: “From the start of his time here at St John’s College almost five years ago Toakahu has presented himself as a young man with mana and presence well beyond his years. He has been a role model and has a vision for ensuring our Maaori students are cared for and pushed towards academic success.”
Toakahu hopes to combine his talents and experiences to help others in the future. He plans to study Law at the University of Waikato in 2016, with the ultimate goal of helping those who are unable to help themselves.
“To me, satisfaction and doing something right in the world is much more important than money and reputation. I want to know that i have made a difference to someone’s life, in my life and in the eyes of the law.”
Toakahu has simple advice for those who are experiencing difficult times and move on with their life.
“Never forget your past, because if you forget something and it comes back, it’ll hit you twice as hard. Instead, harness it. Use it as a driving force or a point where you are never to return there. And never, ever forget those who never forgot you.”