Teenager Lily Simmons-Donaldson has already been identified as a future Maori leader and has had a taste of local body politics, but don’t expect to see her heading to Parliament anytime soon.
After being named a Te Awe Business Network “future leader”, the 17-year-old was invited to visit our nation’s legislature — she wasn’t that impressed.
“I got to sit in on Question Time, on the seats above. It’s ridiculous, they’re all like animals,” she laughs.
“They yell over each other and the Speaker has to try and control it, it must be so hard to do that. You can see MPs texting on their phones and searching on the internet to find out information to use against the others.”
The bubbly teen then decided to join the Wellington City Youth Council – sparking plans to build ‘adult playgrounds’.
“It was so funny, and apparently we are doing more work on it soon,” she giggles.
She’s the youngest youth member of the council.
Born in Wellington with Maori heritage from Ngati Porou, she was brought up with the Maori language and culture from a very young age.
“My Mum and Grandmother are very Maori orientated, and taught me the language pretty much from when I was born.”
She spent six years at Newtown School in an ‘emersion class’, where all coursework and teaching is in Te Reo Maori.
Lily says that really helped her grab the language, but moving to intermediate school was a shock.
“I didn’t learn Maori there. I had to get used to not speaking it all the time as I was in a English speaking class,”
“It was different, but fun.”
She’s passionate about her culture, and tutors Te Reo Maori in her spare time.
“It’s part of my heritage, which I place a strong importance on. I’ve grown up learning Maori, and I think it’s a privilege to be bilingual.”
At school, she is part of the Senior Maori leadership group which focuses on providing positive role models to young Maori students and promoting maori language and tikanga.
The prefect from Wellington East Girl’s College has also provided voice-overs for educational Maori-language websites, has passed NCEA Maori courses with Excellence, and has lead Kapa Haka groups.
A self-proclaimed ‘nerdy child’, Lily began studying NCEA Level 1 when she was Year 9. High school students don’t typically begin NCEA coursework until Year 11.
“I decided I wanted to be cool, so I only read the big books in the library. My sister’s friends used to be really impressed, but I didn’t really understand what I was reading,”
She’s naturally cheeky, and admits to playing tricks on her teachers.
“You can answer exam questions in Maori, which makes it really fun. I that in the French papers and my teacher couldn’t understand it. It was funny,” she laughs again.
While Lily admits she doesn’t always complete her homework on time, she recognises the importance of taking school seriously.
“You have to try hard the whole year, or you will regret it. I failed a history assignment because I didn’t put in enough effort, but was enough lucky to get a re-sit to pass.”
Wellington East Girl’s College deputy principal Ann Greenaway says Lily is a curious student, who has earned the respect of all staff and students.
“She is a motivated, enthusiastic student who has a positive approach to her learning. A very inquiring mind and an interest in people as well as learning new things,”
“She is also able to walk in two worlds, Maori and Pakeha with apparent ease and this is something very special for someone so young.”
The Te Reo Maori/English fluent student has also been learning a third language – French.
Outside of school, Lily volunteers at the Mary Potter Hospice, is a supervisor at a Countdown supermarket, and practices athletics.
Looking ahead to the future, she’s narrowing down her university subject choices but hasn’t yet chosen where to study.
“I want to do either genetics counselling or linguistics, it’ll be based my results from biology and chemistry at least halfway though this year.”
As the interview draws to a close, Lily leaves me with her favourite Maori passage.
“Te manu e kai ana te miro,
Nona te ngahere.
Te manu e kai ana te matauranga.
Nona te ao.“
Kyle Wadsworth is a Witt Journalism Graduand.