Did school captains peak too early?



So there’s an election happening in the United States. Two handsome, accomplished, articulate men are locked in battle to become the most powerful man on earth. They would be catapulting between the euphoric feeling that they might win, and the gut- wrenching fear they may lose.

I know EXACTLY how they feel.

In November 1983, I was in the running to be school captain, and I’ve rarely felt such pressure before or since. But thinking back, I was a bit of a dick about it.

School was an unnaturally big deal to me. The primary school I went to was attached to the high school, so I spent the best part of 12 years at the same place, with the same bunch of girls.

Some felt it was stifling – too many girls, too close for too long.  But I thought it was great. I knew everything about the place, from the short cut to the science block (through the convent laundry) to where the Cheezels for the tuckshop were delivered. Only now, nearly thirty years later, am I brave enough to write that I might have nicked a packet when I arrived at school very early, which happened a lot.

I was one of those kids who was involved in everything, to the point I almost regarded myself as staff. The nuns got so sick of me ringing the bell outside the convent door, asking them to open the library so I could work on the newsletter, they ended up giving me a set of keys.

My friends started calling me on weekends, asking me to open the place up so they could retrieve a forgotten assignment that needed to be finished by Monday. That was okay, it wasn’t like I had that much else to do – certainly not my own assignments.

For someone so committed to school life I was a pretty average student. Good at English and history, woeful at maths and biology. I spent a fair amount of time in detention in years eight through ten, mainly for disrespecting the uniform (scruffy shoes) and talking during class, but somehow I turned things around by Year 11 to find myself nominated as a student leader.

Our school had a captain, two vice-captains and a sports captain, plus a posse of prefects. But being a prefect didn’t interest me. I wanted a badge with the word ‘captain’ on it. Vice would do.

“I wanted a badge.”

I embarked on a grueling campaign of sucking up. There was no school rule I didn’t adhere to, and no extra curricular activity I wasn’t signed up for.

I organised a fun run and took photos for the yearbook. I adjudicated junior debating on Friday nights (again, not doing anything else) and I stepped in when the tuck shop was short of mums. My shoes were polished daily and my blazer was lint free at all times. I prayed no one would find our about the Cheezel theft.


I remember the day the captains were announced is as clearly as yesterday. It was November, and the jacarandas were throwing their purple party outside the hall.

I should have known I wouldn’t get the top job. From the first day of high school it was clear Debbie Graham would be school captain – she was generous, likeable, fair, modest. How could she not be? I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up.

The applause was thunderous. Everybody loved Debbie.

Vice, vice, vice, I chanted to myself; trying to look cool, as if I didn’t care. But I did, I cared a lot.

I needn’t have worried. My name was called. A vice-captain’s badge was pinned to my blazer (I had worn it that day, despite the searing heat, just in case). I was delirious and my parents were chuffed.

But honestly, did any of it matter?  Or was it all a self-indulgent waste of time, energy and angst?

Did doors open? Was the course of my life changed? Did I learn lessons in leadership? Or did it just make me a bit more uptight than my friends – a nerd who skipped the post formal party because I might have been stripped of my badge if I went.

Now, nearly 30 years later the memories embarrass me.

I believed being a captain would be proof that I was better than everyone else. But I wasn’t. My vice captain badge didn’t help me get into uni, land a job or fall in love.  I didn’t have a better time at school because of a badge.

I don’t think the Class of 2012 is looking up at the honor board thinking, ‘Man! That Kate chick who was vice captain in ’84 must have been one hell of a school leader! I really should find out more about her.’

No, school is school. I’m telling my kids that as long as they try hard, make a couple of mates and learn to read and write, they should have an all right time. I’ll tell them if they end up as captains or prefects that would be great, but it’s not everything. In fact, after you walk out the gates, it’s not anything at all.

Kate Hunter is an advertising copywriter with over 20 years experience and one Gruen Transfer appearance to her name. Kate is also the author of the Mosquito Advertising series of novels. You can buy them here.

Were you a school captain or a prefect? Did the high achievers at your school peak too early?

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