Justin Tipa left school at 15 and at the time he didn't see tertiary education as an option. "It was more about starting to earn a dollar," he says. It wasn't until he had children that he started to think seriously about his own education.
Justin had always had a passion for Te Reo Māori and when he and his partner decided to bring up their children with Te Reo as their first language, he decided to immerse himself in it too. He quit his labouring job and enrolled in the Bachelor of Language (Māori) at CPIT (now Ara Institute of Canterbury).
All his life Justin had absorbed Te Reo by exposing himself to any opportunity that involved language and culture. That was a good basis for the degree, but full time study was still quite a daunting prospect.
"I was very lucky that the calibre of the teachers was second-to-none in the South Island. I fell in love with the way CPIT operated and I was well supported as an adult learner, as a father. Te Reo is a living language and when you come to CPIT it's not about learning off the blackboard but about being part of the community. You go to tangi, you learn in the real context by putting your knowledge into practice, you learn about the tikanga that goes on at marae and you become aware of what you do."
Now working as a cultural advisor for Ngāi Tahu, Justin says he's gone far beyond any expectations he had when he first enrolled in the degree.
"At best I was hoping to be a high school teacher – now here I am flying to Wellington to negotiate contracts with the Ministry of Education. I love working for the iwi and interacting with tribal members and I love having the chance to give back because they've invested a lot in me."Justin feels strongly that his degree and subsequent career have been beneficial to his children. "My hope is that they'll do whatever it is in this world they want to do. They have grounding in culture and identity which can act as a pillar to draw strength from. A lot of our young people are lost, disenfranchised. Only when they know who they are can they do what they want to do. My advice to young people is follow your passion. Don't let people talk you out of things. If you know you want something, go for it. Make it happen."