For those about to finish high school, we salute you

FOR more than 220,000 Australian teenagers, the coming weeks will be among the most intense, stressful and existential of their lives.

In Queensland, November 21 has a giant 'X' scrawled over its top - it is the end for the Class of 2014.

Joy will be all-but-dead for a chunk of this crop of high school students from now until Schoolies as 12 years of expectation sits heavily upon their shoulders.

There is a truth though that certain schoolteachers and parents may not want to talk about with their teens.

A truth they fear might derail all the momentum these kids have built up for six hours a day, 10 months a year since they were five years old.

And here it is:

It's going to be OK, pass or fail.

Marks mean a lot, but they don't have to define your life.


"We're very proud of you honey, as long as you score an OP of five or under when you finish Year 12." Comstock


Schools and sometimes the world at large want kids to strive, to fight and claw for the best possible grades.

Teenage boys (and girls) have it beaten into them from their first day of high school that that final grade is a brand that will govern them for life.

A high score in those final exams is their bridge to the life they always dreamed of: a life of riches and power.

Failure means the gilded doors of the best universities, sometimes even the best TAFE courses or apprenticeships will be permanently locked shut.

But these can be unlocked, it will just take more work and a little more time.

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Kids shouldn't have to carry that weight of expectation on their shoulders, they should not be forced into this kind of educational pressure cooker.

It's worth remembering that although they may begin looking like adults or talking like adults, that's what they are - kids.

Don't panic
Don't panic


Mental health group ReachOut publishes a guide for these kids under pressure.

It also gives a hint of the lengths some students will go through before they escape school for that final time:

"Go easy on the substances, all of them - caffeine, cigarettes, coffee, no-doz, alcohol, marijuana, Ritalin, Dexamphetamine and any other drugs.

"Any drug you think will help you study is actually a short-term fix that'll probably make you feel much worse and cause you to underperform later."

I hope someone is telling these kids more than just how to cope with the looming darkness that threatens to engulf them.

If they're not, let me tell you again: It's going to be OK.

Your marks mean a lot, they do not mean everything.

You have almost all the time in the world if you're prepared to work hard.

As Triple J's Tom Ballard puts it:

"Do your best, realise that it's not the end of the world.

There are just so many opportunities and paths and crazy s___ going on, left and right turns in your life that you'll come across."

When I began my career as a journalist at 25, plenty of friends had a degree but almost as many were starting to study something else.

Those friends of yours who are making grand plans at 17 will have their ideas crushed and rebuilt a dozen times. 

Yours too will blossom and wilt.

Breathe in, breathe out.
Breathe in, breathe out.

A decade after leaving high school, noone you know will be the same. Different ambitions, goals, careers, dreams.

Even at 30, many will struggle to answer the question of "What do I want to be when I grow up" - it doesn't matter if they topped the class or spent the day smoking pot behind the Science block.

Great marks will help you into university, poor marks mean you will have to work harder to catch up.

However it goes, those of us who survived high school know that marks mean a lot but they don't mean everything.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't fight and claw, it just means that if you fall short, remember that the end of Year 12 isn't the end of the race, it's the starting line.

Need help? Visit ReachOutHeadspace or Youth beyondblue. They're experts.



Owen Jacques is an award-winning journalist, Twitter user and creator of The Hairy Chest.

Author Owen Jacques
Author Owen Jacques Peter Broelman

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