I remember the day I got my year 12 results with searing intensity.
Not because I was overcome with a sense of joy or relief but because I was completely gutted, trying to subdue the overwhelming urge to break down in tears at 6am.
I never felt like I was a smart child. As a primary school student I struggled to comprehend basic arithmetic and somehow forgot how to read over the summer holidays. I always felt like I was struggling to keep up.
In the early years of high school, I wasn’t much better. I consistently failed maths and science and found it hard to believe I would ever amount to anything.
I spent much of my childhood and early teenage years riddled with self doubt about my abilities and was struck with a sense of astonishment every time I some how managed to do well.
Every time I succeeded I felt like an imposter who had somehow managed to cheat the system, and never did I feel more like I was trying to maintain the façade of a successful student than I did in year 12.
I had found my academic footing later in life when I was finally allowed to pick my own subjects, and things felt like they were falling into place. I managed to do quite well in the last two years of school and, against all my better judgement, began to think perhaps I wasn’t the idiot who was somehow pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes.
Before the grades were released, I had calculated my predicted result and was quietly confident I would get the marks I needed to get into the university course I wanted.
The scores I needed for each subject were stuck up on my pin board and marked in my school diary and I spent the year working hard with that number in mind.
It was the driving force that got me through all the mock exams and practice essays and tears that built up to that pivotal morning.
I had an anxious pit of doubt in my stomach that I tried desperately to silence as I waited to log on that day, clutching the piece of paper with my identification number and password in my sweaty palms.
And then I logged into the SATAC website and read the number on the screen.
It was .2 lower than the score I needed.
I was torn between wanting to throw up and bawl my eyes out. I wanted to withdraw from the world and hide from my family, who I knew would be ecstatic with my results.
I had done well and I should have been proud of myself. I knew that. But I also knew that given my results were still comparably good, no one would really understand my disappointment.
Mia and a number of other personalities joined youth mental health service ReachOut.com this year to share the message that there is life after Year 12.
And they didn’t. My parents and friends knew that I was upset, but no one seemed to comprehend how crushing that .2 was to me. And as everyone told me that my marks were great and that they would have been thrilled if they were me, I felt incredibly alone and defeated.
I felt like I shouldn’t care about it. As though a year of work didn’t matter and that regardless of the very real short term consequences my grades would have on my future, I shouldn’t let it phase me.
In the grand scheme of life, my results were no huge tragedy and I knew the world would throw me much greater curve balls than a number that didn’t fit the lofty plans I’d made for my future at 17.
I knew there was life after year 12. I knew there were alternate pathways to university and that your high school results weren’t the key to later success. I knew even then that that morning was never going to be the defining moment of my life.
Yet there I was, devastated by a .2 that when it came to university offers, turned out to be the difference between a yes and a no.
I knew I had done well, but it wasn’t enough, and that number confirmed all the worst fears I had about myself in my darkest moments.
You’re not smart. You’re in over your head. You’ll never make it at uni if you can’t even do this right.
As it turns out, I did eventually get in to the course I wanted. But it took a university transfer, an extra year of study and almost $5,000 in HECs debt for subjects I never wanted to take in the first place to get there. And if I’m completely honest, six years on I’m still a little bit bitter about the extra time and money that .2 ended up costing me.
Today, everyone is telling you that your marks won’t define you. That a year from now, no one will ask you what your ATAR was. And it’s true. At the end of the day, this number isn’t everything.
But you know what? You worked hard for it. Through all the assessments and exams, through the tears and the triumphs, this is what you’ve been working towards for the past 12 months. It’s okay to be sad and disappointed if it isn’t what you hoped it would be.
After 17 years of school and one of the most mentally draining years of your life, you’re allowed to be a little pissed off if the marks you received didn’t match up with your expectations.
There might be life after year 12, but you’re allowed to care about it too.