At the age of 17 Penny Vaotu'ua was inspired to become the first in her family to gain School Certificate. Penny achieved one of the highest scores at McAuley for her six School Certificate subjects. "I worked hard for School Certificate and I want to keep making my parents proud...because gaining good grades is an achievement seldom seen in my family." Her dreams for study beyond high school included completing a degree at university.
Penny was eager to show commitment to her studies and a tertiary education because her parents, with seven children to support, could not afford to pay her fees.