From West Auckland to Ivy League college: Meet the kid from Te Atatū going to Yale – NZ Herald

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Like many typical teenagers, Andre Fa’aoso enjoys hanging out with his friends, has a busy study schedule and even holds down a part-time job at the local mall.

But he is far from being the typical teen; with a work ethic that has even teachers in awe and which has ultimately led to an offer to attend one of the world’s top schools: Yale University.

The 18-year-old from Te Atatū, West Auckland, is still getting over the shock after receiving the life-changing news he has been offered a spot at US Ivy League university Yale – and on a fully paid scholarship.

He shared a heartwarming video on TikTok as he and mum Melodie Hallam opened an online acceptance letter – with the family dog also jumping for joy.

“I think my breathing – that big gasp? That was because I wasn’t breathing properly. I was holding my breath. I was in shock,” Andre says.

“It wasn’t until after that video was filmed that I just started crying.

“I was just like: ‘I can’t believe this is real’. I put my phone down and just sat with mum on the bed and we were just there, coming to terms with what I’d just been confronted with.”

The young man grew up in West Auckland and attended Rutherford Primary School, Rangeview Intermediate and Rutherford College, where he was named head boy and then dux in his final year of college last year.

Andre acknowledged that life has not been easy, but that the dream for a big future has always been something he and his family have worked towards.

Humble beginnings and a boy forever asking questions

“I’m not wealthy, whatsoever. I live in West Auckland. My mum’s on ACC, my dad’s a roofer. I come from a very, very humble background. There’s no real money to my name, to be honest.

“If I got accepted to Yale, that would be one thing. But if I didn’t receive a scholarship, then I probably wouldn’t accept the offer because I would have no means to fund the tuition.”

Andrew Fa'aoso has been accepted into an Ivy League college, Yale University, in the US. Photo / Michael Craig
Andrew Fa’aoso has been accepted into an Ivy League college, Yale University, in the US. Photo / Michael Craig

Asked what it might have been that was different for him, early on, he talks of a curious little boy who was always asking questions and wanting to understand how things worked. He also pays tribute to his mum.

“I guess in my mum’s words, I was a bright spark. Part of that was by nature, but also from the nurturing that I got from a young age – especially from my mum.

“I’m forever grateful for what she’s done for me, but also how she helped me grow into myself.”

A proud son of Tonga

The young man is proud of his community and is also very proud to be Tongan and Pasifika through his father Vikita Fa’aoso, who grew up in Houmakelikao, near the Tongan capital city of Nuku’alofa.

Andre speaks about the need for more Pacific advocacy and better representation of Pasifika peoples in the media – a career he is hoping to one day enter.

“I think any aspect of Pasefika excellence should be really, really valued and treasured by our younger people, so that they can realise that they can reach those heights.

“There may be endless glass ceilings, but they’re there to be smashed and for you to go through.”

Rutherford College acting principal Judy Farrar said the news had already reached their school over the weekend.

“We are so proud of you, Andre. It couldn’t have gone to a more deserving person.”

Andre Fa'aoso, 18, with proud mum Melodie Hallam. Photo / Supplied
Andre Fa’aoso, 18, with proud mum Melodie Hallam. Photo / Supplied

Farrar, who worked closely with last year’s head prefects, said teachers quickly got to know Andre’s work ethic and drive even as a year 9 student.

He was involved in various activities and groups at the school, including the environmental committee, the ball committee, debate team, 40 Hour Famine initiatives, helping set up United Nations Youth assemblies and advocating for animal rights.

“He just got involved in everything. He led by example.

“There’s nothing lucky about Andre. Everything he gets is because he deserves it. He’s worked for it.”

Andre is currently studying towards a Bachelor of Communication Studies at the Auckland University of Technology, after receiving an academic scholarship there last year.

Now his dreams lie at Yale University, where he hopes to study a Bachelor of Arts majoring either in sociology or political science.

The main goal, however, is to give back to his community.

“I think I owe it to my community – when I reach that position after Yale – to come back and try and encourage the youth here to try and reach the heights that I’ve reached.”