Tears and gratitude as financial burden lifted for scholarship awardee
12 August 2023
The first recipient of the Olive Malienafau Nelson Scholarship, law student Hope Parsons, was celebrated at the scholarship's official launch at the Fale Pasifika.
Hope Parsons, the first student to receive the inaugural Olive Malienafau Nelson Pasifika Scholarship for Excellence, says the entire experience has been surreal.
At an event at the Fale Pasifika this month, Hope celebrated with family and friends and thanked Sir Michael and Lady Maliena Jones for launching the scholarship and supporting Pacific excellence in academic study, leadership and service.
The $10,000 scholarship is the Law School's first endowed Pacific scholarship, and it opened for applications in September 2022 to Pacific students undertaking part three or four of an LLB or LLB (Hons) degree.
As the first recipient, Hope, whose whakapapa connects her to the villages of Satalo and Papauta in Samoa and Ngatangiia and Ruatonga in Rarotonga, as well as Kimiangatau in Mauke, says she's beyond grateful to Sir La'auli Michael and Lady Maliena Jones.
"Sir Michael and Lady Maliena Jones saw something in me that I struggle to find in myself some days. My confidence is growing alongside this award, and I feel that it's a testament to my journey: that I'm on the right path."
Hope says the scholarship, established to honour and celebrate the legacy of the late Olive Malienafau Nelson (Maliena's grandmother), is particularly important to her because it recognises and highlights the impact of the Sāmoan value of service to family and community.
She says Olive, the first Pacific graduate, one of the first women to graduate from Waipapa Taumata Rau and the first woman to practise law in Samoa, has inspired her to follow her heart.
The fifth-year law and commerce student also says the new scholarship allows her to continue her journey without the burden of financial stress.
"This is the first year that I have been able to focus solely on my studies, and it has been reflected in my results," says Hope, who was raised by her grandparents in Ōtara before moving to be with her parents in the US.
My goal has always been to give back to my parents, and now that I'm older, I've realised that the best way for me to do that is through education.
Hope is determined to serve her family, her people and to be a voice for those who feel they have none.
"The sacrifices and support of my family members led me to this position, and this scholarship was received by all of us," she says. "We all cried and it has been a great honour for my family. This award is a testament to our struggles to get to this position. My parents are so proud, and I'm so glad they can see our dreams come to fruition."
Growing up overseas, Hope says there were times when it was hard to remain connected to her culture.
"There were no other islanders in my hometown of Alexandria in Virginia. I was the only person from New Zealand, and most people didn't even know where New Zealand was. It was difficult to remain connected, but my parents did their best to engage us."
Hope's family joined a Sāmoan community group in Washington, DC and attended Pacific events run by the New Zealand Embassy.
In 2019, Hope moved to Aotearoa to begin university.
"I wanted to learn more about my cultures and become closer to my family, which is why I chose the University of Auckland," she says.
Since arriving back in New Zealand, Hope has found many opportunities to create connections with the Pacific community.
"I have been a member of the University's Pacific Island Law Student Association for the past few years and have found an amazing support system through it.
"More recently, I engaged in a research project where I found ways my employer could improve financial literacy among Māori and Pasifika communities and support Māori and Pasifika financial advisers."
Growing up, Hope says that although her family didn't have a lot of money, they did have a lot of love.
"I grew up in a one-bedroom apartment with my family before moving to a two-bedroom apartment where we still live today. My parents sacrificed so much so that my brother and I could have opportunities they never had. My goal has always been to give back to my parents, and now that I'm older, I've realised that the best way for me to do that is through education," she says. "I'm so grateful that this scholarship allows me to continue on this journey."