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​A family that laughs together stays together

by Brenda Kidd

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It's common to have siblings graduate from Wintec - but few families can boast of three generations who have successfully completed the paper chase. 

On meeting the members of the ‘combined’ Bernards whanau, it is immediately obvious they are completely at ease in one another’s company. 

They talk freely, continually crack jokes, and finish each other’s sentences. No conventional nuclear family is this; think the Brady Bunch but with 11 children not six.  Collective mokopuna?  At last count, 20 grandchildren, 1 great grandchild.

What it particularly inspiring about the Bernards whanau is the support they give to one another in all aspects of their lives.  And five family members, across three generations, have studied at Wintec.

There’s Rik himself, who earned a Master’s degree in music; then daughter Kristi (Bachelor of IT); Kristi’s sister Sam (Bachelor of Nursing); their mum Toni (currently working her way through the Diploma in Enrolled Nursing); and Kristi’s sons, Trighten and Jan, who both hold certificates.

Patriarch, Rik Bernards, is obviously proud. He’s been a lecturer at Wintec since 1994 and was pivotal in setting up the music component of the Media Arts degree.

“One of us gets by with the help of another and it snowballs eh,” he says

Rik’s a distinctive presence around campus in his work ‘uniform’ of shorts, black, t-shirt, black, jandals, black, all topped by a mass of hair, no longer black, that would make Sasquatch appear bald.

Mature students occasionally recognize him walking around campus. Bernards, you see, is a Hamilton legend. 

As longhaired lead guitarist for Knightshade, the definitive ‘Hamrock’ band from back in the day, he penned anthems such as ‘You don’t need me, ‘Television Eyes’ and ‘Out for the Count’.

Talking of hair, Knightshade lead singer, Wayne Elliot, also works at Wintec as the Facilities Manager in the IT department. He too walks the campus. However, his hair has changed.  It’s gone.

Kristi, graduated from Wintec in 2000, with a Bachelor of IT. Quickly recognised for her leadership abilities, she was elected on to the Wintec Council in 2000.

Married at 16, Kristi had three children by the age of 20, and managed to finish her degree at the same time. “I think the fact that Dad was already here at Wintec gave me the courage to go back to school and study.” 

Kristi’s sister, Samantha Elkington, (Ngati Koata/ Ngati Toarangitira) will be graduating in April next year alongside their mum, Toni Paton (Ngai Terangi). Sam completed her Bachelor of Nursing earlier this year and is now working at Raukura Hauora O Tainui. Which is no mean feat - Sam found out she was pregnant with her third child after enrolling at Wintec.

“I was just determined to do it!”

Kristi is quick to come to her sister’s aid. “Sam did a fantastic job, three children on her own ... she’s incredibly strong,” says Kristi.

Mum, Toni, inspired by her daughters, is currently studying for a Diploma of Enrolled Nursing at Wintec.

“I came here because I helped Sam study for a couple of science exams and it was like ... I can do this!”

All agree that studying as adult students gives them an edge, as students and tutors alike.

“Adult students are so motivated to be here, often it’s their own money on the line and they’ve got people relying on them to get it right, I don’t think there has ever been an adult student who has bombed,” says Rik.

Not that Rik would ever allow students of any age to bomb.

Graduate Matthew Henderson remembers Rik well.

"Rik Bernards, he was a hard bastard! He didn’t make any apologies about it because the music industry, it’s a hard industry and he would say ... don’t you come into my class without putting in the work cause I will not tolerate it," says Henderson. Of all the things that I learnt at Wintec, it was Rik who instilled a strong work ethic that remains with me to this day."

Kristi’s sons Trighten and Jan have also studied for certificate courses in Media Arts at Wintec.

Trighten holds a certificate in radio broadcasting and Jan a certificate in communication.

Their inspiration, again, came from the fact Poppa Rik was close at hand to guide them.

As they wander off to have their group photo taken, Sam pulls me aside.

"I truly never would have made it without Kristi’s help.  She will never tell you herself but just the fact that she was there for me and the kids, was the difference between my succeeding or not." 

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Image by Tim Carter.