The beauty of not knowing where life will take you is that you have a sense of discovering what you want.
This is what Dr. Judith Esmay Ah Leong said yesterday, challenging the 141 graduates of U.S.P. Alafua Campus at the E.F.K.S. Hall, Sogi.
Dr. Ah Leong is one of the two students who received the Telefoni Retzlaff Memorial prizes.
She was awarded the Telefoni Retzlaff Memorial Prize for Top Samoan Law Student.
“December 2000, 17 years ago, I graduated from this university,” she said. “For some of you, you may be wondering what next and many of you, like me, already know what you want and where you are today.
“Looking at where I am today, I have always wanted to be a doctor and I have always wanted to be a lawyer and many other things.
“And I had to choose between doctor and lawyer but I know I can never have both, but I had to keep working for both.”
Dr. Ah Leong added it was a challenging journey choosing her career path because her father wanted her to pursue law, while her mother emphasised that she study medicine like her grandfather.
She was torn between Waikato University in New Zealand and the University of the South Pacific. Now, she does not regret choosing U.S.P. Dr. Ah Leong spent six years studying Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery – MBBS, Medicine at the Fiji School of Medicine from 1994 – 2000 and yesterday completed her law course (LLBAdv).
Among her notable education achievements was being the Dux for Saint Mary’s College and Catholic Senior School.
“Nothing made sense back then,” she said.
Seventeen years later, she is not only a making a name for herself in the education sphere, she is a medical practitioner at the Samoa Healthcare Center, health representative for Oceania (C.I.W.H.G.), Secretary for Samoa Association of General Practitioners, Locum physician at N.H.S., Assessor at the Caritas Internationalis, Immigration Panel Physician for New Zealand and Australia , Backup P.C.M.O (Peace Corps Samoa), Advisory Council Member for the National Human Rights Commission of Samoa, Panel physician for U.N./ W.H.O., Medical Doctor (J.I.C.A. Samoa).
She challenged her fellow graduates to keep working towards their goal and to never stop believing in themselves.
She also acknowledged the teaching staff of the University of the South Pacific for their dedication and support in helping the students throughout the year.
The other outstanding student was Shawn Rusa, 24, from the Solomon Islands. Mr. Rusa was awarded the Telefoni Retzlaff Memorial Prize for the Most Outstanding Student in Animal Husbandry.
He confessed that he was simply happy to just be able to graduate; the special award is a great added bonus.
"Today is simply such a great day for me," he told the Samoa Observer.
"Right now I feel very different, very awesome. Honestly I was just happy to successfully complete everything I came here to do and this award is a great bonus."
Mr. Rusa's academic journey with U.S.P. Alafua Campus began three years ago and although least expected, being the recipient of such an award means the world to him.
"I enrolled into U.S.P. back in 2014 and then made my journey over to Samoa's Alafua Campus in 2015," he said.
"My academic focus was on Animal Husbandry science and being named the most outstanding student in my field is something that means so much to me."
Mr. Rusa explained how his journey with U.S.P. was difficult in many ways and being away from home made things all the more difficult to cope with. But Samoa quickly became a second home for him turning the feeling of being homesick into a feeling of joy to be in Samoa.
"There were many challenges," he said.
"Studies alone proved too much at times. I experienced the usual obstacles all students go through such as difficult assignments, keeping up with school work and so on.
"I feel that the biggest challenge was being away from home. It was especially hard when you have so much school work to do and thinking of everyone and everything back home would make me home sick but at the same time, I grew to feel very happy to be in Samoa."
Asked what the significance of his achievement was to him, Mr. Rusa says that he is just happy to be able to go home and help his family.
He explained that his one and only goal that pushed him to do great was to one day take what he has learnt back to the Solomon Islands and work to provide for those he loves. A better life is all he asks for.
Mr. Rusa acknowledged those who have helped him in his journey.
"I have nothing but thanks for all those who have helped me get to where I am today and to those who came to support me today," he said.
"I want to give a big thank you to all of my lecturers, fellow students, friends and family who are celebrating this award with me, you support means so much to me.
"Thank you Samoa and U.S.P. Alafua, thank you for taking care of me.
"Thank you to the teaching staff for the lessons I will take back home with me. Thank you to the Samoan people for all the kindness you have shown and all the friendly smiles every day."