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Duxes in a row: Elysia and Gareth Harcombe

It’s said brothers are born to be a pain to their sisters, but in the case of Queenstown’s Harcombe family, it’s a case of following in their footsteps.

When Gareth Harcombe was named Wakatipu High School’s Wayfare-sponsored dux this year, he was emulating big sister Elysia, who was the school’s highest academic achiever in 2016.

Gareth, 18, says it’s no coincidence, because he became “aware of what was required” to earn the honour after observing his sister’s approach to her studies during her final year at the school.

The secret to their success is no secret at all, but simply “a lot of hard work” and keeping well-organised.

“I don’t think either I or Elysia were part of the gifted and talented group in Year 9.”

Elysia, who’s back in the resort working a summer job before her final year of a bachelor of science at the University of Canterbury, says the whole family’s extremely proud of her “all-rounder” brother.

“Honestly it’s just a lot of hard work, and being interested in what you’re doing as well, because that makes learning so much easier.

“I think that’s really important, even if you have to make it interesting for yourself by studying with other people or whatever.”

After receiving the honour at a recent school ceremony, and watching a rousing haka in his honour, Gareth delivered a thoughtful valedictory speech in which he spoke about the myth of eternal happiness.

He urged his schoolmates to realise it was not just normal to be unhappy sometimes, but that sadness was a necessary part of the human condition.

“We need the valleys to appreciate the peaks … we need the misery, the self-loathing and the depression to truly appreciate happiness.

“I don’t dare claim that I know all the answers, or that I’m even close to sorting out my own life, but if I had to give one piece advice, then this would be it: next time you’re feeling down, don’t see it as the worst thing that’s ever happened.

“Instead, see it as an opportunity to improve yourself.”

The speech got a standing ovation.

Gareth, who’s also excelled in athletics and music, is spending the summer working on a native reforestation programme on a Dalefield property.

He’ll then follow in his sister’s footsteps in another respect – to the University of Canterbury – where he’ll study mathematics and computer science.

guy.williams@scene.co.nz