National | Graduates

Indigenous Kanak graduate makes history at Harvard

A man from Melanesia has become the first indigenous Kanak person to graduate from Harvard University, marking a significant milestone for the indigenous people of New Caledonia. 

Joe Xulue proudly received his Master of Laws degree, making it a world first for Harvard.

Reflecting on this groundbreaking achievement, Xulue expressed his deep sense of pride.

"It doesn't matter what else I do for the rest of my life, I just think that singular moment where I am there representing the Kanak people and holding the flag on stage, it just felt like that was really the peak of my existence up until now, he says

Xulue's unique background adds to the significance of his accomplishment being born to a father from New Caledonia and a mother from Sāmoa, and raised in Aotearoa where he also hopes to practise law.

After living in the United States of America for one year, Xulue confidently made some comparisons.

Graduated with Dr Tom Hanks

"We probably do things a lot better than they do in the US. If we think about education, healthcare, and even our legal system, I'd say we have a lot of elements that they want to know more about. 

So that's why I think they choose a lot of people from New Zealand," he says.

During the graduation ceremony, actor Tom Hanks took the stage to address the Harvard class of 2023. 

Hanks, who received an honorary doctorate from the faculty of arts, humorously acknowledged his own lack of academic pursuits.

"Now without having done a lick of work, without having spent any time in class, without having once walked into that library, in order to have anything to do with the graduating class of Harvard, its faculty, or its distinguished alumni, I make a damn good living playing someone who did," he said. 

Xulue, Josie Te Rata, Ben Morgan and Nasif Azam were four students chosen to attend the university from Aotearoa.

Pacific value

Xulue credits the presence of his wife Yasmine in the United States for providing him with a grounded perspective during his time on campus.

He emphasised the value of the Pacific people at places like these.

"Places like Harvard need Pasifika people more than we need them."

We are the ones doing the work, thinking of ways to improve the lives of our families and communities, advocating for equity and fairness in the legal system, and preserving our culture and histories," he says

Xulue plans to leverage his masters to integrate traditional practices into Aotearoa's legal system, championing fairness and cultural sensitivity.

His vision is to create a more equitable and inclusive legal framework that embraces both traditional wisdom and contemporary values.

As the first indigenous Kanak graduate, he said he feels he has opened new doors for future generations and reaffirmed the importance of cultural diversity in academic institutions worldwide.