15 October 2014

Reflections on final high school exams, 15 years on.

Final high school exams have started in Australia. I hope the High School Certificate (HSC) students went well with their first exams on Monday.

Please remember your end of school exams aren't the be-all and end-all of your life. There's so much ahead of you. Doing you want to do is a journey, and you don't have to know what that is at such a young age.

I sat my HSC 15 years ago. It was full of humanities subjects - 3 Unit English done in the early morning hours before school officially started, and General Studies instead of Chinese - a subject I'd given up after I couldn't go to China the previous year. I studied Shakespeare and Charlotte Bronte, the impact of the Vietnam war on Australia and John Donne poetry. I did Maths in Society (I did MUCH better at that compared to the advanced maths I'd done in the junior years) and Biology. I also did art, enjoying it so much that I'd applied for Art History at the University of Western Sydney (and got in). I was a very good student but in the end, my HSC was only worth 74.65. Just a number. It doesn't matter now.

Oh I was a dreamer, buried in classic books and poetry, loving history of the world and arts, and thinking too much about bad boys I was chatting to the Internet. Most of my swot-vac was spent writing poetry that was a cross between Douglas Stewart and Silverchair's Neon Ballroom album (I was heavily influenced by the words I studied). I had very few friends. I'd not touched a drop of alcohol, or even kissed a boy more than an apprehensive peck on the lips. I was scrawny and nervous, lonely and creative. That's me up there. I knew there was more for me out of the confines of school.

I didn't get the amazing HSC score I wanted, I didn't go on to do the university degree I had my hopes set on (journalism). I did a Bachelor of eCommerce - in fact I really hated half of the course (the numerical subjects). I had never failed anything until my first year of university. I had also never worked so hard to stay afloat. I was paying for this degree. It was tough.

However, I made some amazing friends at uni and at my part time job, learnt some life and career skills and went on to a stable day job.

And now, I'm doing the stuff I want. I studied journalism after my undergraduate degree. I have a day job and write on the side. I've won some awards, written for some big media outlets, been overseas, lectured at a university, fallen in love. When I sat my HSC I never dreamed I'd be doing exactly what I want 15 years on.

So final year high school students, I implore you not to put too much pressure on yourself. It's just a number. No one cares about what your final mark was 15 years after school. Focus on being a good person and on happiness. Place less emphasis on that golden score. There's always another chance.

If you find yourself doing something you don't love now or next year, trust me, there's plenty of time to work towards doing that thing you do love. You might have to stick it out for a bit, but sticking it out makes finding your way so much sweeter.

Just do your best.

How did you do at school?

Are you now doing what you set out out to do at the end of your schooling?

Have you ever used algebra?



  1. I did pretty well at school but was horrendously lazy and unfocused so probably not as well as I could have. I had my heart set on studying English Literature at uni, which I did. I loved it but it qualified me for precisely nothing! I ended up in the public service which has given me fabulous professional opportunities, and 27 years later (yes, I am that old!) my day job involves writing and thinking and researching, which is exactly what I learned in my degree all those years ago. I also did the dodgy social maths - called Maths in Society - because I did not have a head for numbers. Still don't, but it certainly hasn't impacted on my life, at all.

  2. You don't look to have aged at all since school! I hated school with a passion. It was not until I went to uni in my 30s that I discovered my love of studying

  3. I think the best thing you can leave school with is a love of learning and a desire to keep it going . Most importantly though is to realise they biggest classroom of resources is the one outside of those four walls we call school or university.


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