55 top school-leavers honoured at merit award dinner

Posted on February 28, 2019

The University of Pretoria (UP) recently honoured top matric achievers at a celebratory dinner hosted by Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe. The 55 were all recipients of the university’s Vice-Chancellor’s Discretionary Merit Award (VCDMA), a prestigious financial accolade awarded to learners who appear on the annual national and provincial top achievers lists, and which covers their tuition for three years, partly in recognition of their outstanding academic achievements.

Prof Kupe urged the selected students to continually strive for success and excellence. “UP’s 111-year history is marked by excellence and change: it admits students who have excellent academic high school results because it believes that selecting and admitting such students is to affirm excellence… this is a university value and practice. Academic excellence knows no race, gender, religion, borders or alternative choices in life – it simply is human.”

Recipents of the VCDMA are expected to maintain a good average and ensure that they complete their degrees in the stipulated number of years. The students were also part of a leadership development programme with international organisation Common Purpose.

The VCDMA programme was established in 2016 and has grown to include 182 students from an original intake of 13. Ten students from the first group of selected students were part of a three-year leadership programme and will all be graduating on time in April 2019; nine of them will continue their postgraduate studies at UP. This particular group achieved an 82,47 cumulative grade point average in their 2018 final graduation year, with the highest being 90,33.

Erin Ivin matriculated from St John’s Diocesan School for Girls in Pietermaritzburg and is a recent recipient of the award. “It’s a major achievement because it’s allowed every recipient to interact and network with some of the top achievers at UP as well as with highly regarded staff members at the university,” she said.

“The award has also been an opportunity to give back to our parents for all the money, time and love they’ve spent in getting us all here. We [the recipients] all feel so proud to be able to remove part of the financial burden from our parents, and show our gratitude to them in this way.”

Bono Segudu, a second-year UP medical student who hails from Khalavha, a rural village in Venda, is a previous recipent of the VCDMA. Boosted by her status as a VCDMA student, she applied for the Model United Nations programme – which required young leaders from around the world to think of solutions for the world’s crises.

Addressing Prof Kupe and members of the university’s executive, she spoke of her experience in Malaysia as part of the UN programme. “The trip was eye-opening. For a girl that had never been to an airport, used an aeroplane or travelled to another country, not only was I thrilled about going to represent my university and country on gender equality, but I was also thrilled about the entire adventure,” she said. “Each person represented their country and their goal,” Segudu added. “We were like presidents, only we didn’t have money or power – but we had a solid vision and a goal.”  

She also spoke about the significance of being a VCDMA recipient and why she decided to #ChooseUP. “Neither of my grandmothers had the opportunities I have now. They never went to school, and my mother never made it to university – but I am here. I’m opening doors for my children so they too can enter into spaces I have not been in,” Segudu said.

“If it weren’t for the VCDMA, I wouldn’t have come to UP. When I was told in matric that I was one of the university’s top learners, I was overwhelmed and excited. All the effort that UP made to give me assurances about the university was enough to convince me to come here because I could sense the love and warmth I would be given.”

Prof Kupe echoes this sentiment. “UP believes in nurturing the best young, fine minds so that their full potential is realised, and that developing the potential of excellent students will enable them to transform their lives, a society and a continent so that it’s economically developed and socially progressive.” He encouraged all the students to pursue postgraduate studies, adding that they should be proud of themselves because UP is proud of them. 

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- Author Shakira Hoosain

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