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NCEA Assembly (2013)

posted 30 Jul 2014, 21:37 by OC Web   [ updated 30 Jul 2014, 21:37 ]
At the celebration Assembly for students achieving Merit and Excellence to a high level in their NCEA result 2012 Tihema Baker, gave a wonderful speech, it contained a valuable message to our students around setting goals and doing your best. Tihema has kindly allowed us to publish the text of his speech on our website.

Mr Wood introduced Tihema at the assembly: "Our Guest Speaker: Tihema Baker. Tihema, 2009 Head Boy for Otaki College, is an up and coming New Zealand writer. In 2009 he was a finalist, and gained runner up for the secondary school category of the Pikihuia Maori Writers Awards. Presently, besides completing his Bachelor of Arts in English Lit and Maori Studies, Tihema has been accepted into the Te Papa Tupu Maori Writers Incubator Programme - a 6 month programme where 6 writers are chosen by Huia Publishers to work on a manuscript for either a novel or short story collection. A great privilege to have Tihema speak on this day."

When Rory finally awoke he was again surrounded by white. Dazed, he looked down at himself. He was back in the Stabilisation Capsule, his wrists and ankles still tightly cuffed. 
‘What… what is this place?’ he asked himself, rattling the cuffs that restrained him. ‘Jason? JASON!’ 
‘Rory, do not be afraid.’ 
Rory looked up as he heard the voice. It wasn’t Jason’s, but neither was it the robotic woman’s. It was a man’s, rich and clear. And somehow he knew that it had spoken to him before. 
‘Where is Jason?’ he asked again. 
‘Jason is fine,’ said the voice. ‘Like you, he succeeded in completing the module. You will be reunited with him soon. But first allow me to introduce myself. 
‘My name is Chaos. I am the Watcher Dominor, leader of the Watchers. Yes, I have spoken to you on a number of occasions, although you will not remember them exactly. But I am speaking to you now to inform you that you have passed the test; you have proven your capability with the power that you wield. When you next awake you will find yourself in unlimited possession of those very same abilities. You have one week beginning from then to use them as you wish before our next encounter. Feel free to experiment until then, but be warned that reckless abuse of your powers will not be tolerated. Remember always: ‘You are being Watched.’ 

Students of Otaki College, teachers, parents, friends and whanau, tena koutou katoa. My name is Tihema Baker, and what you just heard was an extract from the novel I have been writing in the Te Papa Tupu Maori Writers’ Programme. I chose this extract to open my address because I felt that it mirrored today’s ceremony; a celebration of the achievements of you, our students. And I feel very honoured, and very privileged, as an old boy of this College, to be standing on this stage again offering what little wisdom I can. 

Now, I could come back and talk to you all about my experiences of what came after Otaki College, of my study at Victoria University of Wellington, the friends I’ve made and the things I have achieved. But so could 20,000 other people. What I want to talk to you about today is something that only 6 people in New Zealand could talk about, and even then, the story would be different between each of us. I want to talk about a dream, a goal that I set for myself, something very close to my heart, that I have put a tremendous amount of effort into. That dream is the novel I read from just a moment ago, which Huia publishers have told me they would like to publish. 

Early last year, Huia publishers, leaders in promoting Maori Literature, opened applications for the Te Papa Tupu Maori Writers Programme. The idea was to select six Maori writers to take part in an incubator programme, where, for 6 months, the successful applicants would work hard with the help of a mentor to produce a text ready for publication – all the while receiving a decent allowance to live off. As an aspiring writer, I had short stories and other concepts saved all over my laptop, scribbled in books and notepads – sometimes the laptop or book wasn’t even mine! But my pride and joy was my novel: it was called Watched, and told the story of Jason and his best friend Rory, who found themselves among a secret group of people who possess superpowers. Now my dream was for this book to be published, but because of uni and work commitments, I could never find the time to spruce it up enough to submit to a publisher. Then Te Papa Tupu 2012 came along, and I was encouraged, despite my reluctance, to submit my novel. I had no expectation whatsoever of it being selected; in fact, I had submitted my novel to the same Programme in its first year in 2010, and been rejected. Nevertheless, I had continued to work on the novel over time and thought, what the heck, I’ll give it a go. I had nothing more to lose, and although I imagined being selected, I was constantly preparing myself for failure again. When the date came for the announcement of the winners, I checked my emails and phone constantly, but there was no email, no phone call, no letter, or update on their website. I just assumed that I had been unsuccessful, took it on the chin and thought oh well, maybe in 2014. A few days later, however, to my utter surprise, I received a phone call from Huia saying that I had been selected: the judges had had trouble choosing the final six, but mine had made the cut. 

The next 6 months of my life were consumed by my novel. I became a professional writer; with the aid of my mentor, I dived headfirst back into this book that I had barely touched for almost a year, correcting the language, changing the story, fixing up loopholes, characterising, cutting and rewriting entire chapters, leaping out of bed at midnight to completely change the ending – the whole time focussed on that dream of having it published. And finally, in January, I completed it. It was worlds apart from the manuscript I had started with, far beyond anything I had ever expected it to become, but I was absolutely stoked with it, and so I submitted it to Huia Publishers for assessment. Not long after they emailed me to say that they wanted to publish it. I was over the moon; I had finally reached that point I had been working towards for so long. But there was a catch; before they could publish it, it needed even more work. Certain sections that they felt could be improved needed to be, and they wanted the word count cut from 120,000 words to 90,000 – that’s a quarter of the book that they wanted gone. As disheartening as that was, I thought I didn’t come this far to give up now. And so currently, I’m hard at work still, whittling away at that word count until I reach my goal, because Huia Publishers have already secured the funding to publish it, and have told me they want it published by Christmas. So really, that dream of mine depends on one thing, and one thing only: me. And in my mind, there’s no question that I’m going to get there. 

So after that life story, you’re probably thinking; what does this have to do with me and NCEA? Here’s the thing: that journey of my novel – the thing that is most precious to me – all of the work, time, and effort that has gone into it, started here, at Otaki College. In fact, I remember the very moment that this story began to form in my head. I was fifteen years old, sitting in Year 11 Graphics. I did enjoy Graphics, but I really liked the opportunity to draw pictures in class. One day, rather than drawing the bach that we were supposed to be designing, I drew an Avengers-style lineup of teenagers with superpowers. The one standing in the front was my favourite – I named him Jason, and I granted him the power to control gravity. That was the moment Watched came into existence, but at the time, there was something far more important to me; my life-defining goal was to excel in my studies. Getting that essay or test back with the big red “E for Excellence” was the biggest thrill of college for me, while the big red “M for Merit” just wasn’t good enough. As I moved on, and academic excellence became the greatest thing I could strive for, Jason and his friends took a back seat, biding their time until they would become the next thing I could set my sights on. Because for me, as a student here at Otaki College, doing well at NCEA was my goal. That was the thing I strived for, put all my effort into, because it was important to me. And in the end, I achieved it. I passed my Levels 1, 2 and 3 with Merit – not with the big “E for Excellence”, but with a mark I had tried my absolute best for, and was ultimately awarded with DUX in my final year. And the funny thing is, doing well at NCEA impacted other important areas of my life, particularly my book; English became the vehicle that allowed my novel to come to life; History gave me a backdrop to set my stories against; Geography gave me knowledge of other places and cultures; the list goes on. Good marks in NCEA granted me a place in the Weir House Hall of Residence, which opened me up to a multitude of different people, different ideas, different experiences. And, of course, with those grades came scholarships to fund it all. By simply working hard at something and achieving my goals, benefits came in all sorts of different and unexpected ways, and it was that experience of having a goal and working towards it with NCEA, that would prepare me and give me the knowledge I would need to tackle this next goal of mine – my novel. 

The same will be true for all of you. Obviously, doing well at NCEA is the reason you’re all here. Like me, for whatever reason, you have all set goals for yourselves and worked hard to achieve them, and now, we’re all here to celebrate your success. And it won’t end here, I guarantee it. In hearing my own little story, and in seeing what you yourselves are capable of, I hope that you realise that you are capable of achieving anything you set your minds to. Through NCEA, you’ve been offered a chance to work for a goal, to aim at achieving something, and proven that you can do it. So what next? Well, who knows? What you choose to set your sights on next is entirely up to you. You might be the next All Black, the next great Kiwi musician, or the next great graphic designer – trust me you’ve got a better chance of that than I do. But whatever it is, make sure that you enjoy it. I think that’s the key to success: not only enjoying the rewards, but enjoying the journey, enjoying the person that the journey has made you. Sometimes it’s the intangible things, not the material ones, that matter the most. 

I want to leave you all with a whakataukī, a proverb that I particularly like, and I think sums up my opinion of today quite well. You see, I love being a small town boy at heart, having gone to this little but great school of only 550 students, but showing the rest of the world that I can keep up with it. I love being the underdog, and I love the fact that greater men and women than me have started right here where you’re sitting. And so, anei te whakataukī: Iti rearea teitei kahikatea, ka taea, and it means that even the little bellbird can reach the top of the kahikatea tree. No matter how small we are, or how insignificant we think we may be, we can do amazing things. Greatness from humble beginnings. Nō reira, ko tēnei taku mihi whakamutunga ki a koutou, ngā tauira o te rangi nei, ngā rangatira o āpōpō, rere, rere, rere atu rā ki tō teitei kahikatea – fly, fly, soar on to the summit of your dreams. Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, kia kaha koutou katoa.