The University of South Pacific’s Telefoni Retzlaff Memorial Prize, for the top Samoan law student of the year, has been awarded to Fuamata Fuatino Sialaoa.
Fuamata, 25, works as a law clerk in the Office of the Attorney General’s commercial and international division, and graduated last Friday with a bachelor degree in law from the USP Alafua Campus.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer, Fuamata said she assumed it was a mistake, when she saw her name on the program to be the recipient of the prestigious prize. And became overwhelmed with emotion when she was called to the stage to receive the award.
“I honestly could not believe it at first until the lady waved to me to come up on stage. The moment was surreal!” she said.
When asked why she chose to study law, Fuamata said she started watching law and courtroom TV drama such as Crime and Investigation, Suits and the movie “Legally Blond”—which spurred her interest in law.
Fuamata initially pursued arts, while attending Samoa College, and continued at the National University of Samoa. After receiving her foundation arts degree, she hoped to complete a bachelor in law, but was advised that the NUS no longer offered scholarships for law studies.
“I did not know how I was going to afford school without a scholarship,” she added.
But her father, Reverend Sialaoa Fotuogaiuteine, was determined to ensure she followed her dream—and made it possible for her to enroll with the online law study programme of the USP—while working fulltime.
It was a challenge studying while working fulltime, added Fuamata, but with the support of her parents and understanding workmates and CEO—who gave her day-offs to study and sit for exams—she was able to complete her studies and fulfill the course requirements to graduate.
Reverend Sialaoa Fotuogaiuteine and his wife Milovale Sialaoa Pagamalie served the Methodist Church in Manono Uta, and despite their financial challenges, they gave priority to their daughter and her studies.
Fuamata lost her father on March 17 this year, after he suffered a stroke and passed on a week later after being in coma.
“I was really affected in school as well as my job, but I managed to pull through because my dad wouldn’t have wanted me to give up. Losing him was a motivation and encouragement for me to do better,” she added.
While grateful for all the support of her family and office colleagues during her studies, she gave glory to God for her achievements and said she dedicated it to her father.
Fuamata resides in Vaitele Fou along with her siblings Sione Sialaoa, Micheal Anesone Sialaoa and Siieleele Sialaoa.
For now, she prefers staying close to family, where she feels more at home, as she strives to contribute to the development of the country.