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Another group of year twelves are currently at schoolies or at home, anxiously or intoxicatingly waiting for the day their VCE ATAR scores are dropped. It’s all so dramatic, like a big ol’ episode of Gossip Girl where Blair wants to get into Yale and Serena just wants to find out “who” she is, blah blah blah. Two years ago I was in this same position waiting for my ATAR – and by ‘position’ I mean being curled up like a foetus and rocking back and forth.
The class of 2010 ATAR scores came out on a Monday, December the 13th – two days after my 18th birthday and the passing of my dear, dear grandfather (may he rest in peace). So at that point in time, I was pretty confused. One third of my being was excited to be a legal adult with a new life on the horizon, another part of me was grieving, and the last third of me was as nervous as those teenage boys reciting their rehearsed questions to the politicians on the Q&A panel.
Waking up Monday morning, December 13th 2010, I made sure everyone was out of the house so I could check my “life-defining” score in privacy (all of which now seems rather pedantic). The moment I saw my individual study scores and my overall ATAR score, I cried. I cried not out of happiness, but out of sheer disappointment because I immediately assumed everyone had done better than me (despite the logic that only 15% of the state had done better than me). My brother coincidently called me from Japan about 10 minutes post-tantrum, which only caused more tears to flow and more huffing and puffing from my end.
Why was I so shattered despite my good ATAR score and a state-topping study score for Theatre Studies? I was shattered because I had aimed 7 points higher than what I had initially scored, which I now realise was an incredibly unrealistic goal for myself.
And yet, isn’t that the essence of year twelve? To try really, really hard and get an outstanding score or else your life may as well be over? But not everyone can get an outstanding score, in fact, only 10% of Victoria can get an outstanding score, or 5%, or 1%, however high your standards are.
Nobody told me that once you get into a university, you can essentially get into any other university if you work hard enough. And at the same time, why does the name of your institution matter so much? It may matter at the time of study, but it sure as hell won’t matter when you apply for a job:
“Oh, you studied Journalism at Monash? I assume you have all the skills to be our local reporter in Pakenham. We gave the North Korea correspondence gig to the kid fresh out of RMIT though, because they needed an ATAR score of 95 and you Monash kids only needed 85. Soz lol”.
Chyeah, right. Qualifications are important, particularly in maths and science-based fields, but in the arts, humanities, marketing ect., one requires experience, professionalism and common sense.
I didn’t peak in high school – not in looks, academia, popularity, sport, nothing. It wasn’t as if I was unsuccessful in any of those things though, but at the time I felt it was the most important thing to excel in every field.
I went to an elitist private school where wrapping your knitted school jumpers around your shoulders was cool because that’s what the Country Road catalogue models did. Rowers may as well have been royalty, school and house captains were essentially based on popularity contests and everyone who seemed totally cool back then seem quite boring now.
If you really want to know, I went to the prestigious high school where a girl actually tried to sue the school because she was upset with her VCE score. She lost the lawsuit. I laughed.
Two years on, I often run into the ‘has-beens’ of my private schooling life and they still ask me, “What did you get for Geography in year 12?” or “who do you still hang out with from school?”
After being asked these questions so many times, I once awkwardly replied with “I only really see the people who matter to me”, in which I meant as a light-hearted joke. To this the peppy interrogator looked confused and I quickly recovered with “I meant that as I joke! I guess…” to which more awkwardness occurred.
I’m not bitter about my life during high school, in fact, I loved school when I was there. I loved my friends and year twelve was – strangely – my favourite year because I had finally found my place in something I was so passionate about: theatre. I enjoyed the atmosphere of school, all of its competitions and rewards.
However, when high school finishes you suddenly see that all the politics and popularity at school means very little in your 20s. You realise you no longer have to be pleasant to the people who used to bore the shit out of you, and people are free to come out and be who they want to be.
Sadly, this is a time where teenagers are committing suicide because they succumbed to the pressure of trying to get 99.95, they have been bullied, or closeted LGBT youths are ending their lives because they can’t see through the pain and politics of high school.
This is a time where we as whole – with the help of schools, institutions, politicians – need to reassure every teenager that it all gets better. There is life after high school, and for most people, life actually starts after high school. In all honesty, if you received a bad ATAR score, it may just lead you in a better direction.
Once you leave high school and accept that it’s over, a fog clears. Suddenly, everything that was important back then now seems tedious, ridiculous and silly.
After all, power resides where we believe it resides.
So whether you’re battling personal demons of acceptance, or whether you’re just like me – the average kid who just wanted to be recognised for a bit more – life opens up after secondary education. The fog clears.