WOMEN OF THE ISLANDS - JOHANNA SETEFANO
HEAD GIRL OF ST CUTHBERTS COLLEGE
Talofa lava! My name is Johanna Iutita Talitha Setefano meaning “Gracious Gift of the Lord” and I am the eldest daughter of Rev. Dr Imoa and Amelia Setefano. I was born right here in Aotearoa New Zealand and spent a large amount of my childhood moving back and forth from Malua Theological College in Samoa. My dad is from the villages of Fasito’o Tai, Vaivase Tai and Palauli and my mum is from the villages of Afega and Vailele in Samoa. I come from a strong Christian family with 3 brothers and 1 sister that are devoted to God and a current member of Papatoetoe Congregational Christian Church of Samoa.
I am currently a Year 13 student and also humbling enough the Head Girl of St Cuthberts College for 2019. It’s such a privilege to be able to attend the top secondary school in NZ all thanks to my parents and my Year 7 teacher, Mr Theunisen (Mr T) who shared a vision that I attend the best school available. Fortunately, I was awarded with the Aspire Scholarship at the end of 2014 which has allowed for me to attend St Cuthberts since Year 9.
You're currently the Head Girl of St Cuthberts College. Are you the first girl of Pacific Islands descent chosen to be the Head Girl and was there a process you had to go through to be chosen?
Gladly, I am not the first Pacific Islander to be Head Girl here St Cuthberts College but I am the first full Samoan. Last year, one of my very close friends who is like an older sister to me, Tiana Willis Baker was head girl here at St Cuthberts College. She led with such dignity and has left big shoes for me to fill this year. However, I am up for the challenge and have a point of difference to offer through my own leadership style which is to lead with kindness, service and through love.
To become head girl, there was a process that we had to undergo which took a couple of weeks. I remember being told at one of our year group meetings that each year 12 girl had 20 votes, and the other year levels were assigned a certain number alongside the teachers to vote for girls in our cohort. After a couple of weeks, the tallies came in and the top 6 girls from that top 20 were emailed about the next step which was an interview. We had an interview with the Principal and our Head of Senior School, then we got told that same day to write a speech for the next day talking about why we think we would be the best head girl for the school. All 6 of us had to present our speeches in front of the whole school which was pretty nerve wrecking because any one of us had the potential of leading the school. Voting was opened again and from here they chose who the Head Girl, the two Deputy Head Girls and Prefects were going to be.
I am still and always will be humbled to have received this amazing responsibilty of being Head Girl. It’s been an amazing journey so far and I am excited to see what God has in store for the rest of the year.
How important is it to bring a Pasifika perspective to what you do?
It is VERY important! Being brought up with a culturally literate family, I have been instilled with four main pillars that have shaped me into the person I am today, Respect, Service, Hospitality and Love, which is also included in my school motto, By Love Serve. Having a Pasifika perspective in everything that I do gives me the ability to share those aspects of my life with others and to maybe inspire future leaders within our communities.
What have been some of the biggest challenges and then some of the most rewarding moments of your school journey?
One of the biggest challenges I faced in high school was adapting to the new environment but being a shy and timid person did not help at all. Attending a predominantly white school, it was really hard to fit in especially when majority of the girls had come to St Cuths through intermediate or even primary and already had their ‘cliques.’ However, through the kindness and generosity of so many girls, I found my place in the school and have made some lifelong friendships.
Some of the most rewarding moments of my school journey would have to be the times I visited places like South Korea, Turkey and even China. In 2014, whilst attending Papatoetoe Intermediate I had the priviledge of travelling to Turkey (with a stopover at South Korea) alongside 7 other students from NZ to attend the 99th Anzac Ceremony in Gallipoli. In the last holidays that just passed, I also went to China with 9 other girls from my school and toured around 4 or 5 different cities. These experiences have been nothing but blessings and I am in awe of the beauty within these different countries and the many influential people that I had the priviledge of meeting.
I have learned to be grateful for the little things that I take for granted and to not always minimalise myself but to take risks and step out of my comfort zone more often.
What is the best piece of advice you've been given?
“Be prepared to lose something because it gives you enough room for growth”
“Your attitude determines your altitude” – Mr T (Year 7 Teacher at Papatoetoe Intermediate)
What do you love most about being an islander today?
Just EVERYTHING! The way we embrace and celebrate our culture/identity whether it be through dancing, singing, storytelling and even taking the time to learn the language.
What's inspiring you about the future and what do you plan to do once you finish high school?
All the achievements and the goals that I have accomplished so far is a reflection of Gods work and knowing that he has a plan for me is what is inspiring me about the future.
Other than that, it would have to be the stereotypes towards us Pasifika teenagers. Statistically I’m meant to fail along with so many other pacific island students in high school.
However, I refuse to be another statistic!! Everyday I am determined to fight the odds and contribute to breaking those stereotypes and that is what’s motivating me for what’s ahead.
Ever since I was young I’ve always loved helping people and have always wanted to be a doctor and if I was lucky enough maybe even a surgeon. Next year, I hope to continue pursuing my dreams studying Medicine at the University of Otago.