As a child, Nephi Pukepuke wanted to be an All Black or a surfer. He never imagined he would become a lawyer.
The 28-year-old was admitted to the bar this week at a special ceremony at Whangarei High Court, using both the Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon.
“The Church and the Book of Mormon is a huge aspect of my life and part of my identity. I wanted that to represent me when I swore my oath and became a member of the bar,” he said.
“I was getting a few weird looks from other people, but the judge and the registrar knew it was important to me and they were very accepting.
“I wanted to bring a God that I know, not a God that the world knows, into the ceremony. It felt really good.”
Nephi is from Takahiwai, Northland and studied a Bachelor of Law at the University of Waikato, specializing in Equity Law, Environmental Law, Maori Land Law and the Treaty of Waitangi Law.
“There are so many people who aren’t engaged in the justice system because it’s a foreign system to them. So, explaining it to them as a lawyer is a small blessing in itself,” he said.
“I remember one day being with friends and realizing why I needed to study law. I thought of some of the struggles my people were going through and I want to go back home and help them out. That’s the moment I really decided to be a lawyer.”
Nephi began studying in 2008 and then left to serve his mission in Ogden, Utah, from 2009-2011.
When he came home, Nephi began working at factories in Australia and New Zealand.
“I would work enough to get money and then I would go on road trips or go surfing and do something fun, but I knew it wasn’t sustainable especially if one day I was going to have a family. I needed to think about my future.
“The nature of my work also felt soulless. Basically, I was working to support a fun lifestyle.”
Nephi made the decision to get back to university and finish his law degree. He graduated in May 2017.
“People underestimate themselves but anything we want to achieve is possible,” he said.
“God wants us to live up to our worth. We have a greater calling in life, a self-worth that enables us to achieve more than what is around us.
“Seeking education is important. It was obviously a lot of hard work studying law, but you don’t have to be a brilliant person. You just need to be passionate and purposeful.
“I made sure I kept up my scripture study and prayers. That helped a lot especially when I noticed a lot of anxiety and depression can creep in for students. But keeping up the regular habits and being around good friends helped me to have a balanced lifestyle.”
Nephi also credits his mum Wini who obtained a degree while raising both Nephi and his younger brother Jarom, as a solo parent.
“My mum has been fundamental to my journey, not just becoming a lawyer but helping me be the best person, I can be. She really steered me to go into university straight after school,” he said.
“My brother and I were both under 10 when she graduated and that was a great example to me.”
Nephi said his dad was also supportive of his decision to study law.