More than 3000 students are being gowned, capped and ready for the real world, graduating from Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi today, Friday 29 March.

One of those graduates is United States First Nations international doctoral graduand Mary Dupuis, of the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis people, Washington State.

Set to graduate as a Doctor of Indigenous Development and Advancement, she will follow in the footsteps of her twin sister Dr Marla Conwell.

Conwell graduated last year as the first international professional doctorate student, and the sisters are the first members of their tribe to graduate with a doctorate.

Seven members of their family and a representative of the tribe will travel to Whakatāne for the graduation.

A procession of graduands will walk through the streets of Whakatāne followed by a formal capping ceremony to mark the graduation.

Graduates have completed doctoral, masters and bachelor degrees and certificate qualifications in a range of more than 20 programmes, including teaching, nursing, te reo Māori, performing arts, Māori studies and indigenous studies.

Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta will be among hundreds of iwi, government and local authority representatives, academics, staff, students and their whānau and supporters at the day-long celebrations at Te Mānuka Tūtahi Marae, marking the 27th graduation at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi.

Chief executive Professor Wiremu Doherty said graduation was the highlight of their annual calendar, and an opportunity for the wider community to honour the graduands’ achievements with pride.

“They are graduating uniquely qualified with a world-class indigenous education that they have worked hard for,” Doherty said.

“At a time of great challenge for Aotearoa and the world, they are graduating with unique research and scholarship expertise, knowledge and networks.

“They are therefore uniquely empowered to use the opportunities their education gives them to make a difference, to make change happen, to build a better world.”

Doherty highlighted how they would be looked at to show leadership and seize every opportunity to work purposefully, creatively and collaboratively, addressing challenges faced by their communities.

The celebration would begin at 8am on Friday with a pōwhiri at Te Mānuka Tūtahi marae.

The Gown & Town hīkoi through the centre of Whakatāne will leave from Mitchell Park Reserve at 10am and proceed along The Strand to Mātaatua St.

The procession, a highlight of annual graduation events, will finish with hundreds of well-wishers lining the streets to perform the haka and cheer on the academic parade.

The formal capping ceremony begins at 11am.

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