By Erin Kavanagh-Hall

Jade receives an award from her favourite teacher, Sione Tauveli. PHOTO: Beau Elton

Jade Witinitara doesn’t do things by halves: she her heart set graduating top of the class since her first day at secondary school.

Her academic dreams were realised in November, when she completed her final year at Makoura College with the Dux trophy in the one hand, and a university scholarship in the other.

Jade, 18, received the 2018 Tuakana Matatau Award, otherwise known as the Dux Litterarum, presented each year to the Year 13 student with the best academic results.

As well as being named Dux, Jade, easily recognisable for her magenta and turquoise hair, also received the school’s Whaia te Tika, Whaia te Pono and Whaia te Aroha awards – for being a respectful and trustworthy member of the school community, positive attitude, and contribution to school life, respectively.

To complete her haul of prizes, she was offered scholarships to both Otago and Canterbury Universities (made available to secondary school Duxes), worth $6,000 each, to go towards her course fees.

Having dreamed of a medical career since she was young, Otago was the easy choice for Jade – who will begin her Health Sciences studies in 2019, hoping to eventually qualify as a paediatrician.

Jade’s drive and determination are obvious – though she has remained humble about her achievements, which she puts down to a lifelong love of learning.

“I freaked out on the night when they called my name,” she said.

“I thought, ‘wow, all my hard work has actually paid off’.

“I’ve been aiming for Dux since Year 9 – academics is the thing I’m best at and most passionate about, so it’s an awesome feeling to have made it.”

Jade, who has grown up in Masterton and attended Douglas Park and Lakeview Schools, says she has been a bookworm from a young age, and a voracious researcher of topics that pique her interest.

“Ever since I was little, I’ve loved reading books about Ancient Rome.

“I find it fascinating – it’s amazing to see the kinds of things the ancient societies came up with, and how we’ve progressed since then.”

As a child, Jade dreamed of being a veterinarian – but realised she would “rather help people”, so decided on paediatrics.

To prepare for medical school, she focused mostly on maths and sciences in Year 13, though did Classical History as her “one fun subject”.

“That was probably my favourite subject, though I’m big on chemistry as well.

“I like it because it explains how pretty much everything [in nature] works.”

Jade attributes her success to “keeping focused on study, even when it got boring”, and the nurturing learning environment at Makoura College.

“My teachers were amazing, really supportive – if we needed it, they’d help us in any way they could.

“If you want to do well in school, my advice would be to be nice to your teachers. If you treat them with respect, they’ll put in the effort for you and help you pass.”

Jade said she felt nervous about heading to university and leaving her hometown behind, but looks forward to the new chapter in her life.

Science and maths teacher Andrew Forest said Jade worked long hours both at school and at home to achieve high standards, and has the ability to “process a great deal of information”.

“To achieve high marks in NCEA you need to have great thinking skills and the ability to write, both of which she can do very well. 

“Jade has always been humble, friendly and helpful to other students and staff, and highly motivated to do her best.”

Principal Paul Green praised Jade’s appetite for learning and curiosity, which will be her “keys to success” in all areas of life.

Jade also has a passion for forensics and criminal psychology, and is a keen gamer.