A Canterbury University student who did not go to school until she was 16 has defied the odds to earn a Bachelor of Commerce degree with first class honours.
Faith Jeremiah will graduate tomorrow at the top of her management class.
The achievement is a far cry from an upbringing in what she describes as a very isolated cult-like family atmosphere.
The second oldest of 13 children, she never attended schools, doctors, church and was separated from all extended family, the general public and all forms of media. At the age of 15 she ran away from home and became pregnant when she was 16.
"[I] decided an education was urgently needed to enable me to change my son's future,'' said Ms Jeremiah.
"I attended Karanga Mai, Kaiapoi High School's centre for young parents, and worked very hard starting with primary level education to finally obtaining NCEA Level 1 and 2 and in doing so won the Clayton Cosgrove Cup of Excellence from the school.''
Ms Jeremiah had only had six years of schooling when she enrolled at Canterbury University.
At first she found the experience "challenging and scary with still an immense amount of catching up to do socially and academically''.
As a mother of two young children, Ms Jeremiah says she worked extremely hard to obtain her first class honours and plans to do her PhD next year.
Her chosen topic is franchising and she hopes to one day start her own business as well as starting up a franchising tertiary institute in New Zealand.
"The fact that New Zealand currently has the most franchises per capita worldwide and is one of the most rapidly developing business models in New Zealand, highlight the significance of my proposed PhD study which seeks to
examine in depth the relationship between the start-up stage and business longevity,'' said Ms Jeremiah.
She has also been a student mentor and during her studies worked as a research assistant.
Her supervising lecturer Associate Professor Colleen Mills said Ms Jeremiah's story was an inspiration to all those who aspire to improve their lives through education.
"Hers is a 'where there is a will there is a way' story. She has steadfastly worked to gain an education in spite of challenges that many would see as barriers and has achieved great results.
"She thoroughly deserves our congratulations. She is an exception young woman whose positive attitude and tenacity will take her far," Associate Professor Mills said.
Ms Jeremiah told The Star today: "I'm very excited and looking forward to graduating.
"I have worked very hard but I've had a lot of support from the uni throughout my journey and from my partner. I hope my story will inspire other women and young people who have been in similar situations, that they can do really well as well."