This story first appeared on the Manukau Institute of Technology's website, we thank them for their permission to share this story.

Four years ago, Moefilifilia (Moe) Aoelua was a 21-year-old mother of two without high school qualifications. This month she's graduating with a Bachelor of Nursing Pacific from Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) on 28 May 2016. She is a Skills Matter student in the new entry to specialist practice: mental health and addiction nursing programme and is already making a big impression with her employers.

With the support of her husband and classmates, she's now working at Middlemore Hospital as a registered nurse specialising in mental health.

"I think having the kids has always been a huge push for me. When studies were getting really hard, I always thought 'if you drop out now, what are you going to provide for your children?'"

"There was never a time that I thought that this wasn't worth it," she says.

As a straight-A student, Moe excelled during her studies and was the selected speaker for the nursing graduation ceremony.

Moe Aoelua - Skills Matter NESP nursing student

She attributes her success to being organised. "The routine at night would be to go home, have dinner, get the kids showered, help with their homework. When they go to sleep, I'll make lunches and then I start doing homework around 10. It was continuous."

"I guess if you have children you have no choice. You learn to cope."

Moe wants to encourage other teen mums to start studying. "I want other teen mums to see this, because when you're a teen mother you have that stigma attached. We can't change what happened, what we can do is make a difference to it. Do something with your life, and do it with all your ability."

Born and raised in Samoa, Moe became pregnant with her first child at 16. Returning to high school wasn't an option, so she moved to New Zealand with her husband to complete Foundation Studies at MIT to enable her to transition into university.

"The thought of uni was so scary. "But we're all here for the same reason, we're all trying to get this degree together. You don't have to go through it yourself."

Moe is the daughter of Rev Opapo Oeti and Luisa Samau Oeti and the late Rev Petaia Ualesi and Moeafusia Ualesi. It was the death of her adopted father in Samoa that inspired Moe to work in health. "I thought maybe if I got really good at my job, I could prolong somebody else's father's life. That's where it started."

"One day I need to go back to Samoa, but I want to gain on the ground experience. You can't be on the floor and influence things, and I want to influence how we care for people."

"That's what gets me up every day, because I feel like there's a lot of learning I still have to do. Over the years your skills will develop. It's like a plant, you can't expect it to bloom straight away."

"One day a patient came up to me and said 'it's not about the money, it's about the heart.' She didn't realise the impact of that comment, but I thought you need to remember why you're here, why you wanted to be a nurse."

"We provide the best of care we can offer, we hold their hands, listen to their concerns or distress at times when they are most vulnerable. We are able to walk with our clients and families through their journeys to recovery."

Her passion for working with mental health patients came as a surprise.

"I never knew anything about mental health. I grew up in the islands where anything to do with your mental state is seen as possession, and needs to be traditionally or spiritually healed. So I didn't have any knowledge of mental health, especially schizophrenia and depression. "

"I was fascinated by these new illnesses that I never knew about. I went into my placement, where I'm working now, and it was a completely new view. It changed my thoughts about nursing."

"There's still stigma and discrimination always attached with mental illness," she says. "Any time in your life, even if you're functional and stable, there's always that chance that something could go wrong."

"I always think if anything happens to my children I'd be so traumatised I don't think I could get out of bed. Every time I'm at work, I always put that scenario into my head for people that I'm caring for. These people used to come from functional lives and it's just something's happened to them."

"It's amazing when you connect with people that come from the same story as yours and that are struggling, it's really good if you can find those people in your journey and you can help them."

Moe will graduate with a Bachelor of Nursing Pacific degree on Saturday 28 May 2016, along with 1,055 other people as part of MIT's 2016 Graduation.

Moe has also enjoyed her new entry to specialist practice: mental health and addiction nursing programme.

Our knowledge is enhanced by the in-depth theory we are being taught at uni, NESP helps support us during our practice. The assignments are also relevant and I believe this program should continue because it is giving us new graduates more support in order to be more competent in the new field we are practicing in.

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