Dear 12, your final grade won’t make or break your life …

Me in year 12 in 1989. Nice perm …

Photos are deceiving.   That photo of me (and my perm) was taken on my last day of high school in 1989.   And I look deliriously happy.

I was, of course. For starters, I didn’t have to wear that uniform anymore. High-5 to that.  Homework was over.  No more having to sit through another minute of Biol or the textbook that haunted my dreams: The Web of Life. Hey Highschool, don’t let the door hit you on the way out, is what my eyes seem to be saying.

Of course what you can’t see is that I’m also completely terrified. Terrified at what did – or didn’t – lay ahead. Terrified at whether or not I would cope at university. That’s assuming I even got a high enough score to get into the Communications course I wanted to do. (Guess what? I didn’t). I remember being terrified knowing the group of people I’d spent the past five years with were all heading off in different directions. And that I’d kinda taken it for granted that all those faces – some loved and some loathed – were no longer going to be a part of my daily life.

So yeah – I remember that last term. And I’m reminded of it now as the media rolls out its annual “The HSC has begun” stories. Also because I’m putting the final touches on a book of advice I’m currently writing for year 12 students of all the things I wish I’d known before I left high school and went out into the real world. Advice like, “Never date a man who has Cher tunes on his iPod.”


But think about it. Before you left school and went out into the big, wide world, what do you wish you’d known? For what it’s worth, here’s what I wish I’d known back then:

You will not be a success or a failure in life based on your year 12 final grades.

For senior students, it feels like their whole future is resting on these year 12 exams. But it’s not.  Let’s be really, really honest. Your final grade is just one little moment in time.  The truth is the people who are living big, exciting lives; the people who are living their dreams, who are making a mark are not necessarily the people who got straight A’s or did fabulously well in the HSC or SACE or OP or whatever it is in your state. They are the people who are resilient. And persistent. They are the people who had faith in themselves and kept going.

Now don’t get me wrong – high grades are valuable.  The better your grades the greater the options when you leave school. And that’s what you want: options.  But in the long term, success in life is about your ability to bounce-back. So if you don’t do so well with these exams or if you don’t get the score you want – just remember that it’s not the end of the world.  If you REALLY want to study something, you’ll find a way to do it.  As my friend Pam always says, when one door closes, try squeezing through the cat flap.

And then there are life’s late bloomers. For a whole range of reasons some people just don’t do well in high school. Maybe because of stuff that’s going on at home. Maybe because they’re not a great fit for the school they attend. Maybe because their head just isn’t in the right place. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go on to great things.  A fabulous example is my friend (and fellow author) Kim Wilkins. On her blog, Kim wrote this about her disasterous high school years:

“I was a late bloomer in every sense of the word. I still played with my dollhouse in the first year of high school, until one of the other girls told me that it was lame. I was puzzled and sometimes horrified by the things my teenage peers talked about and did. I gained a reputation for being the biggest “dag” in my grade. I flunked almost everything at high school and spent a very long time working in fast food jobs and typing jobs.  In fact, I’d say that I didn’t really blossom until my mid-twenties. I went back to school and finished my senior, got into uni, started writing books, and haven’t looked back. “

Let me tell you, Kim’s being modest. Today she’s an internationally acclaimed author of twenty books. She’s a university lecturer.  She won a University Medal for pete’s sake.  She’s living the life of her dreams. And she flunked out at high school.

So to the graduating class of 2012, know this:  whatever happens over the coming months, have faith that you’ll be just fine. Why?  Because whatever happens you have it in you to bounce back.

How have your high school grades affected your life?


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About Bec

Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.

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