I’ve been tutoring HSC English students for many years now. I love it. There’s something special about the relationship you develop with an ungainly adolescent who has been forced to study the poetry of T. S. Eliot or Rosemary Dobson and doesn’t see the point of it.
Many of the kids I’ve tutored over the years have lacked confidence. You can do this, you tell them. It’ll all be worth it. To distract them you talk about the future - what they’re looking forward to. The formal, their plans for schoolies, the travel they’ll do in a gap year.
The HSC is a gruelling year. This year it’s my daughter’s turn. Watching her trying to learn online during Term 1 was difficult; trying to tutor other HSC students online was almost impossible. But that was just the start.
Watch: Thank you to all teachers, everywhere. Post continues below.
Now instead of conversations at the dinner table about exciting events in the school calendar, we navigate cancelled 18ths, cancelled sports events, cancelled musicals, cancelled university Open Days, fee hikes for particular university degrees.
Then a few nights ago, as my daughter was preparing for her second trial HSC English paper, the news came through. The State government no longer permitted school formals. Graduation ceremonies would be restricted to students only.
As a parent, what are you to make of all these disappointments?
Best not look at social media, where you’re constantly reminded that what these students are going through is... well, nothing.
Take the Facebook post that’s making the rounds: Londoners huddled together in the Underground, enduring the Blitz. The disappointments of 2020 are compared to much more trying circumstances. Why complain about trivialities - being “forced to stay indoors”, or “difficulties streaming Netflix” compared to the privations of the Second World War: “I’m not going out in case a bomb drops” or “Your kids have to be evacuated and live with random Good Samaritans for their safety.”
Or it can get more personal. Twitter reactions to the Sydney Morning Herald’s coverage of student disappointment about the cancellation of formals is illustrative: "Sounds like a first world problem." Or this: "Nothing compares to the heartache this self-absorbed generation is feeling right now because they can’t go to their formal."
Leisa Aitken is a clinical psychologist who is currently counselling a number of Year 12 students struggling through their HSC year. We all know how serious that has become for some.
Aitken also happens to be in the middle of a ground-breaking PhD researching Hope, with supervisors at Sydney and Oxford universities. She questions the dismissive attitude taken towards this year’s cohort of Year 12s, finding comparisons to past historical events unhelpful.