Briar Thompson

With her University of Waikato honours degree in hand the guest student speaker at her graduation ceremony in Hamilton yesterday is now preparing to take up one of the world's most prestigious scholarships.

The 22-year-old, who has just completed a Bachelor of Communication Studies with honours, will head to Britain in September and the University of Oxford as a Rhodes scholar.

The former Whangarei Girls' High School Dux will spend a year studying for a Master of Science (MSc) in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies followed by another year-long course in Global Governance and Diplomacy.

"Eventually I'd like to work for the UN refugee agency," Miss Thompson said.

As a member of the Young People's Reference Group, put together by the Office of the Children's Commissioner from young people aged from 12 to 17, Miss Thompson was influenced by the human rights and advocacy work she did.

"When I went to uni I missed that side of stuff so I looked for ways to get involved and last year I was a refugees services volunteer. A lot of it was advocacy work."

After Miss Thompson helped settle a Columbian family of six into a new life in Hamilton, which involved months of support work and lots of late night calls in Spanish, she narrowed her study focus to refugees and forced migration.

"Out of our support group I knew the most Spanish. If they had an emergency or anything they'd call me because they knew I'd understand."

Miss Thompson was asked to speak on behalf of yesterday's graduates at the university where she emphasised her belief in the power of education.

A kaumatua's challenge on her first day at high school to turn around poor Maori performance inspired Miss Thompson to achieve the most she could in life with her education.

Of Ngapuhi descent, Miss Thompson said she remembered thinking, "yeah that's something I can do".

"It just kind of spoke to me."

Though not looking forward to the UK winter, Miss Thompson said she could not wait to get to Oxford.

"It's all quite exciting really. Not just the education side of it but meeting so many people from all over the world, and especially the scholars because they all come from amazing backgrounds."

Known as the world's oldest and most prestigious international graduate scholarship, Rhodes scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic achievement and strength of character.

All of Miss Thompson's course tuition and accommodation and living costs are covered by the scholarship, which is worth about $140,000 and covers two years of study.

Her mother Maureen, who travelled with husband Ken to her daughter's graduation, said the pair were very proud of what Miss Thompson had accomplished.

"We know the work that has gone in beforehand," Mrs Thompson said.

"Her commitment all through her life, right from before she started school, she's been focused and very curious. She's always been very interested in anything and everything."

For now Miss Thompson remains a member of the Waikato University communications staff.

She also speaks a little te reo and aims to one day bring her skills and experience back to the Pacific region under the umbrella of the United Nations.

The Northern Advocate May 2012

By Natalie Akoorie