Despite everything that VCE was, I look upon my final days of high school with a strong pull of nostalgia. Not for lack of cause: I memorialised every event as though it were a scene from Breakfast Club.
Who could forget a champagne picnic on the morning of your last day, or painting the school bathrooms green to cover hateful graffiti with flowers and quotes about self love? Why would I ignore the poetic nature of turning my feet purple with bruises from dancing all night at graduation? Commemorating small moments is a specialty of mine and I will do anything to romanticise every part of an ending.
Then of course, there’s ATAR day: the day the state issues every graded VCE student a ranking – one that means everything and nothing at the time – and expects you to value it.
On my ATAR day, I remember awaking at 4am. I’d had a strange nightmare and upon rolling over to check my phone, I got a message from a childhood friend:
“Are you also awake? I see you online. You should be awake. Please be awake.”
It turns out, we’d both had nightmares. We were both shaken with nerves and could no longer sleep, so we spent the next few hours messaging back and forth; chatting like nervous kids until the sun started coming up and the reality of it all got much closer.
Which brings me to my first piece of advice for those suffering this very second:
1. Community helps.
The only people who can understand the fear and frustration you feel that morning are those in the same boat. Luckily, there are thousands of people sharing your pain. I was at a picnic when I found out my score and, though I didn’t really feel like telling everyone, it was good to hug the people who got it.
Then, you can all forget about it together.
At a party that night, ATAR talk was banned. You hugged each other, said “Hey, are you happy?”, answered and then you ate bread and dip. They got it, so it didn’t need analysis. You could just celebrate the ending of something you all did together, no matter the statistics of it all.
Which brings me to my second piece of advice.
2. The ATAR means nothing about your value as a person.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before – and there are pathways, right? You can even read about them on The Penny Mint when we discussed them last year. However, it always needs reiterating:
The ATAR means nothing about your value as a person. At all.
You know what does say things about you? Kindness, empathy and a passion for learning more about the world – which can happen in so many ways.
Plus, no matter what score you get, there will always be something that disappoints you a little that day. Maybe you didn’t reach your goal study score for a certain subject. Maybe you’re hurting for a friend who’s upset with their score. Maybe it’s a little like New Year’s: you build it up in your head and then it happens and all of a sudden, you realise how arbitrary it all is.
That’s not to mention the inequality of it all: the classism entrenched within the ATAR system, the disregard for the arts in its algorithm and the ridiculousness of whittling humans down to numbers at all. It’s a weird system. It’s okay to admit that, even if you’re looking forward to doing well.
3. Celebrate anyway.
No matter what score you get – or if you did ungraded VCE or VCAL – you have a bunch of reasons to be proud. Finishing high school is huge and you have so much to celebrate.
Celebrate awesome people (or never having to see terrible people again). Celebrate the end of the high school schedule, because you get to have some sleep-ins now. Celebrate the last event your graduating year has together for a long time.
Most importantly, celebrate yourself. Your effort is of value and so are you. Have a good break, take a breath and we look forward to you entering the world of adults some time next year. Trust me, it’s pretty fun on this side of it all.