Jeremy Thomson perfected his barbering skills during his course at Ara Institute of Canterbury.
Jeremy Thomson had “slipped into a bad place” and was using drugs and alcohol and needed to sort himself out.
After a trip away with family he signed up for a 40-week course to be a barber, the decision to study “a very big call after 20-odd years”.
Determined to pass, he stopped drinking. Last week he was one of hundreds of students at Ara Institute of Canterbury to graduate with a range of different qualifications.
“I started barbering to sort myself out,” he said.
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“Halfway through the course I got sober, simply because I wanted to keep up the progress and achieve more goals.”
As the level four qualification progressed, he was getting marks he “never thought were possible”.
At the end of the year he gave a speech to his classmates celebrating 100 days of being sober, which brought many to tears, said his tutor Rachael Mountstevens.
She has seen students overcome English language barriers, a lack of computer skills and low school attendance affecting their academic ability.
“I have students fighting for a better life for themselves,” she said.
“They’re determined to head forward and not back to the life they have come from.”
Out of the 38 students to graduate in the level four barbering qualification, the vast majority are now working in the industry or newly equipped with a “side hustle”, she said.
Thomson’s life experiences are informing how he relates to clients who come in for a trim.
“It’s another form of counselling, in a way,” he said.
Māori graduating with higher qualifications are proudly blazing a trail for those following in their footsteps.
“People open up in the chair and my life experience means I can get where they’re coming from.”
Although the course has finished, it was “just the beginning”, he said.
“I’m learning more and more now from my employer, and it’s really made me step up a further level.”
Thomson was one of almost 1900 who were eligible to graduate after completing their studies at Ara.
On Friday, 865 graduands attended ceremonies at Christchurch Town Hall, with 150 different qualifications awarded.
Among the largest cohorts were nursing, with 137 graduates, and design, with 61.
Eight master’s level qualifications were also awarded across nursing, health practice, creative practice and sustainable practice.