real life

"Don't. Freak. Out." The words I wish I'd heard when I was in Year 12.

Do you remember Year 12?

It’s the most bittersweet year.

It begins with the four-word compulsory item:


I mean, seriously. Translation: this is such a serious time that you can not even own a pretty/ crazy/ lovely/ personality showing/ normal vessel in which to hold your pens.

There’s never another time filled with such high levels of excitement, fear, anxiety, hope and hormones.

Today, it’s reaching its pinnacle for 220,000 Australians, who are about to sit their final exams in the coming weeks. All of them – plastic pencil cases at the ready.

In hindsight, I remember my final year fondly. My brain was such a well-oiled machine. My entire life so dedicated to one set of exams. I was cleared of pretty much every commitment except for breathing so that I could perform at my peak. I had little appreciation that this would never, ever happen again. Ever.

Because life isn’t like that.

Year 12 isn’t real life.

Real life is what happens after.

LISTEN: Speaking of ‘after HSC’, a young guy takes Holly Wainwright and Ben Fordham through a typical day on schoolies. Post continues after audio. 

It’s a bubble full of expectations. Expectations from everyone. Including yourself.

In my final year, I spent months carrying around a pencil case – a clear one – filled with regulation calculators, a favourite ruler, protractors, blue pens, emergency tissues and a variety of highlighters. And amongst all of that were my friends – my fellow-panickers and support crew – facing the monstrosity with me.

Now, I carry around my work laptop, emergency sultanas for my kids, thongs incase I’m caught off-guard and need to walk too far from the carpark to Woolies and a bunch of doctors’ bills waiting to be claimed at Medicare.

But I know, THIS life – a real life – is so hard to imagine. A Year 12-er cannot think beyond a UAI, uni and travel. The rest is just “out there, somewhere, in the future”. It’s all so far away. Getting MARRIED. Having a BABY. Wha?!

I finished my HSC in 2001.

And you know what brings on the flashbacks? Jacarandas. Yep, the trees.

Jacarandas give me flashbacks of my daily timetable and the people I studied with.

At this point in the year – October – Year 12 quickly becomes about four types of students:

1. Those who study.


2. Those who pretend to study.

3. Those who don’t care.

4. The secret studiers: those who pretend they don’t study, but do.

Alissa Warren did her HSC in 2001. Image supplied.

(The last ones are the worst. Note to Year 12ers: don't let them get to you. Do your own thing. Those types are in abundance after the HSC, learn to shrug them off early).

But I'm not the only who remembers the final days with such a mixture of bittersweet memories.

ReachOut, an organisation that helps under 25 with mental health issues, have reacted to what a stressful time this is, and have launched a campaign to helpe young people through it. They've pulled together a bunch of videos of Australians who talk about their final exams, what it meant to them and what it means to them NOW.

Today Show host Lisa Wilkinson says, "I guarantee you, you'll have more flight capability than you ever imagined". She gives a good pump-up, here:

And isn't that the best thing?

Life after Year 12 is inevitable and it works out. There are ways to be what you want to be. Always.

I have a girlfriend who studied law and became a lawyer. She got over it. Quit. Opened a successful dress shop. Years later, she got married and now she's a stay-at-home mum. She's one of the smartest, happiest people I know. Her exams were important but today, she lives a completely different life to the one she envisaged as she saw in the exam hall completing her last paper. I know there are thousands of success stories about people who didn't even complete school.

Not helpful, right?

Because most of us were there and what we need to pass on to those going through it, or those guiding someone through it, is:

1. You'll get through it.

2. It WILL work out.

3. You can only do your best. Truth.

ReachOut interviewed Ita Buttrose for their campaign. Her advice for exam survival is so retro and so old-school. It's perfect. Her three simple tips to keep the stress levels down? Get outside, sleep and have a big breakfast.

Take a look:

If you know someone about to sit the HSC, send them these videos, give them a cuddle and most importantly, let them know there's life after the HSC.

And, please, buy them a new fancy pencil case to celebrate the end being in sight.

What advice would you give to someone stressed out by the HSC, or trying to help their stressed-out kid?