Laying the Foundations for Lifelong Success
When Calvin Lee used to drive past Dilworth, he never dreamed he’d end up studying there.
Awestruck by the school’s impressive campus, magnificent grounds and premium Remuera location, the young boy from Howick assumed it was a school for the rich.
But, as he later found out, things aren’t always what they seem.
“Dilworth had such a prestigious prep school vibe so I presumed it was an esteemed private school reserved for the wealthy,” says Calvin, who is three-quarters Chinese, quarter Russian, but born in New Zealand.
“I was astounded when I learnt that it was actually the complete opposite – a school that offers a world-class education, pastoral care and lifelong support to promising boys who are disadvantaged.”
Fast forward several years and the high achiever - who in 2016 was named Dilworth’s 110th Head Boy - reflects on the unrivalled education, opportunities and support the school offered him.
“To this day, my twin brother Daniel and I count attending Dilworth as one of our biggest blessings and we are eternally thankful to the school.”
After losing their father to cancer when they were five, the boys’ lives were indelibly changed.
“After learning the rare type of cancer dad was diagnosed with and the very limited medical options offered in New Zealand, we had to go and seek treatment overseas. Dad passed away about nine months later. The treatment was very expensive and it quickly churned through the family savings.”
Hard times followed and a return to Auckland saw Calvin’s mum, on her own without family in New Zealand, working round to clock to provide for her boys.
“Mum did an incredible job through close nurturing and mentoring. She was our greatest inspiration and sacrificed a tremendous amount to give us the upbringing we had.”
A sought after translator and interpreter, she had left behind a high-powered international career to forge a better life in New Zealand.
“Mum previously worked for organisations such as the World Bank and United Nations and interpreted for various world leaders, including the US President. She had an extremely successful career but gave it all up because she wanted to start a family and give them a brighter future in New Zealand.
“When the opportunity arose for us to go to Dilworth, mum knew we were going to be in the best possible hands. It must have left a huge void in her life sending us both off to boarding school but she knew that we would be gaining a world-class education and it also meant she could devote more time to rebuilding her business (which now provides multi-lingual translation and business consulting services to prominent corporate clients and government entities).”
Starting Dilworth in Year 8, Calvin and Daniel quickly adjusted to boarding school life.
“We’d become pretty independent as kids, so we settled in really quickly. However, I recognise it was not quite as easy for some of our friends. The school provides amazing support though, from its pastoral care to the friendships it helps foster, so it makes for a pretty smooth transition for most boys.”
During his time at the school Calvin thrived academically, athletically and musically – and although it’s only five years since he graduated, he has already gone on to do great things.
“I represented the school in a dozen different codes, from Kapa Haka to premier debating, completing Trinity College London Grade 8 on two musical instruments and captaining the 1st XI football team.”
Named Sportsman of the Year in 2016, he won the senior athletics title in each of his final three years, represented the school in the premier cross country and athletics teams, and carved out a career as a football player, going on to play professionally in China and Germany.
“At Dilworth, every boy is encouraged to play a sport, whether at social level or in a premier team. I think this was one of the greatest platforms for us to grow. Every week we’d be working as a team to achieve a common goal and with every win or every defeat we learnt valuable life lessons and leadership skills.
“While I’d already begun playing football before coming to Dilworth, the school’s sporting programme definitely helped fast-track my development. Playing in the 1st XI from Year 10 gave me the confidence to pursue further training, which led to me representing Auckland then New Zealand, being offered football scholarships with top American universities, and being scouted by overseas professional clubs.
“Although my playing in Germany and China didn’t happen until a few years after leaving school, if you traced it all back, the 1st XI opportunity and the sports programme at Dilworth definitely helped take my game to the next level,” says Calvin, who for the past three years has coached the 1st XI at the Dilworth Junior School as a token of his gratitude.
Calvin with the Dilworth Junior Campus Football team he coached in 2020
But there’s much more to the 23-year-old than his exceptional sporting prowess. Following hot on the heels of his love of footy is Calvin’s passion for music.
“Dilworth changed my life in this regard. The school not only funded all our music lessons and exam fees, but it also gave us so many opportunities to play in groups. I can hand-on-heart say that the music programme at Dilworth was the key factor behind my selection to New Zealand’s National Youth Concert Band (which my brother and I played in together for two years), and achieving Trinity College London’s highest grade in both clarinet and saxophone - and in trumpet on Daniel’s part.”
With so many accolades to his name Calvin had plenty to be chuffed about, but he says his proudest achievement was “without a doubt” serving as Head Boy.
“Dilworth provides some pretty amazing opportunities to grow as a young man and as a leader throughout all stages of your schooling. Being given the chance to lead a band of brothers and a school with such a rich history was an indescribable feeling. Fond memories from that year include setting up community service initiatives, sharing Dilworth’s mission and values all over New Zealand, and helping to inspire other boys to strive for well-roundedness and follow their dreams. It’s not every day where at 17 you have such a great platform to go out and impact people’s lives like that.”
The Head Boy role opened up a world of leadership opportunities, from attending inter-school conferences to professional development courses. In fact, after participating in Fuji Xerox’s year-long leadership programme with thirty other head girls and boys from around the country, Calvin was named by the organisation as one of the top three Next Generation Leaders in New Zealand that year.
The Fuji Xerox scholarship was one of many he was awarded, each one playing a critical role in supporting him through the next stage of his learning journey.
“I suffered a few football injuries and knew early on that football wasn’t going to last forever, so alongside sport, I studied a BCom at Auckland University. I was awarded seven or eight scholarships in total, including a PwC scholarship awarded to the top business students in New Zealand, and a Dilworth Leavers Support Grant. Thanks to these, my halls and university fees were virtually covered.”
Calvin Lee, Class of 2016
Calvin was also a recipient of the Staples Education Foundation Tertiary Scholarship, providing $5,000 per year for the first three years of tertiary study. But while the financial benefits were significant, Calvin says the Foundation’s impact was much more far-reaching.
“The most valuable part of this scholarship was the work experience, network and mentorship. I had a great student buddy who provided me with close day-to-day support at university, and an incredible mentor who had followed the same academic path as I’m following and is now a director at a top accounting firm. Thanks to Staples Foundation I also got an internship with a New Zealand private wealth firm which led to a permanent part-time role throughout my university studies and a full-time job offer after graduating. These opportunities came about as a direct result of attending Dilworth.”
Now working as a Management Consultant for PwC – one of the largest professional services networks on the planet – and as an investment advisor, Calvin has the world at his feet. And his brother Daniel is also blazing a trail.
“Daniel was an all-rounder too. Alongside achievement in music and art, he played basketball for Auckland and got straight A’s all the way through. He received the Top Achiever Scholarship at Auckland University, among many other scholarships. In addition, he designed a special logo for the Dilworth Rural Campus, which was also officially unveiled as the monument signage at the school entranceway in 2014.”
Calvin's twin brother Daniel Lee
Since completing his BCom, Daniel has been following his dream of being a professional entertainment and portrait photographer. Already he’s shot for some of the world’s top modelling agencies while living in Paris, and back here in New Zealand he has photographed well-known local and international artists such as Benee, Tyga and Post Malone.
And although Calvin thanks his mum first and foremost for their success, he says the time they spent at Dilworth comes in a close second.
“Dilworth had a massive impact on both of us, teaching us to make the most of every opportunity. Yes, we had a lot of that ingrained in us already, but Dilworth amplified that by twenty. The school gave us exposure and taught us to hunt for opportunities. We had unbelievable male role models so we were never short of a father figure, and all the guidance and support we needed to develop our potential and pursue our dreams.
“We truly owe a huge debt of gratitude and I say without hesitation that I will continue to give back to this remarkable school for the rest of my life. Going to Dilworth was such a special time for me – it’s an amazing school.”