Overcoming the odds

Dr Kelesi Whippy the lone PhD candidate that graduated from The University of the South Pacific’s (USP) Faculty of Arts, Law and Education (FALE) on September 20, 2018. Picture: SUPPLIED

SHE was the lone PhD candidate that graduated from The University of the South Pacific’s (USP) Faculty of Arts, Law and Education (FALE) on September 20, 2018.

Dr Kelesi Whippy could only look at her family and smile as she walked up the podium to receive her award. Only her family would know the struggles that she had to overcome.

“It certainly does feel good. There is some mixed feeling, yes,” she said of the occasion.

“I am deeply humbled to carry with me the blessings of the yavusa Nayaumunu, the people and the land of Viwa, Bau, in the province of Tailevu. I am eternally indebted to the vanua for influencing my perceptions and attitude as a vasu (a relation through maternal links), ivukevuke yaga (supportive wife), dauniveisusu vinaka (mother; of motherly disposition) and dauniveituberi uasivi (an educator) to re-look at the interactions between people and environments as a unitary system or the ability to veivakavulici ena itovo e veiganiti kei na bula ni veimaliwai. So, even in that precise moment of relief and joy to have accomplished this goal, I feel a deep sense of obligation and connection to the vanua.”

Apart from juggling her career, family and studies, the grandmother of one was also looking after her sister’s four children in addition to her four.

“I sincerely acknowledge my husband for taking care of the children while I worked on finishing my PhD,” she shared. “It was teamwork between us; we had eight children under the roof – two 16-year-olds, two 15-year-olds, two 12-year-olds and a 10-year-old. Our 26-year-old is married and resides in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and son. I wouldn’t call it a challenge looking after them, I would say it was procrastination that proved a challenge,” she said with a laugh.

Her PhD thesis is titled ‘Na Vakatatalo: An exploration of the iTaukei perceptions and expressions of play and its implications for early learning and development.’

The study was inspired by her children and looked at how appropriate interactions with children, particularly during their vakatatalo/qito or play time, enhanced holistic development within a particular sociocultural context. Dr Whippy said the experience of seeing her children grow from infants into young adults greatly assisted in compiling her thesis.

Generally, the doctoral study resonates with a wider acknowledgement of, and appreciation for, the role of culture and identity in education and early childhood education, in particular.

“This achievement reminds me of everyone who has touched my life,” she said.

“In particular, my late mother, Vakatawa (Deacon) Siteri Lalaciwa Raduva-Sale, my grandson – Iliesa Roko Johua Koroibete and to the rest of my wonderful family. This milestone is also dedicated to my Adi Cakobau School Alumni and the group of vibrant young women of the Class of 88. The gift of the support and acknowledgement provided by the ACSOG has been overwhelming and is truly appreciated.”

Time passed, and the sense of feeling suspended between worlds persisted, however, my family and colleagues kept reminding me that life has to go on, to keep myself occupied with work and life experiences.

All those years of hard work, exhaustion, self-doubt and tenacity culminate in the PhD but one must understand that we only get to live once so for me, the PhD journey is part of that precious one-time opportunity to engage in this life and I had to make sure to strive towards successful completion.”

So what’s her message to aspiring students?

“Perseverance and dedication,” she said.

“A doctoral degree is no mean feat; without the failures, there would not be any successes. Your area of specialisation is important to strive to set a precedence. Similar to all success stories, the initial chapters may denote humble beginnings. It is the author who drives the tone so be passionate about the storyline. There will always be an oasis for refresher ideas and of course the punch lines (not so academic in nature) but include it anyway.”

Among those whom Dr Whippy acknowledged were Dr Akanisi Kedrayate, Dean of the FALE, the Research and Internationalisation office and the School of Education Research and Postgraduate committee for the tremendous support in providing the approvals and sponsorship needed for enrollment into the doctoral studies.

In addition, she acknowledged Dr Jito Vanualailai, Director USP Research Office for facilitating a weeklong face-to-face consultation with her supervisors, Dr Salanieta Bakalevu, Dr Mesake Rawaikela at the School of Education and, Professor Margret Sims at the Faculty of Education, University of New England, Armidale, Australia.

“I take my hat off my colleague and mentor, Dr Lavenia Sauleca Tausere – Tiko, a graduate of the University of New England, who had paved the way for ECEC scholars in the Pacific. At this point, I also wish to acknowledge Dr Poliana Havea, ECEC scholar at the Tonga Institute of Education for her encouragement and support.

“Without my colleagues’ and supervisors’ critical remarks, I would not have done it for which I am very grateful,” she added.

A total of 238 students graduated from FALE during the afternoon graduation session on 20 September 2018, while a total of 1,321 students graduated from USP in a ceremony at the National Gymnasium over a two day period from September 20-21.

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