An Open Letter to Year 12 Leavers
Dear High School Youths,
I see you in the library opposite me. All long hair and trendy bomber jackets, heads down and pens up, concentrating so hard I can see premature wrinkles already forming on your youthful skin. I also see the occasional weeping, and moments ago I witnessed an actual head banging which startled three toddlers and one librarian. For me, I’m hiding from the responsibilities of my life in the library, sneaking contraband musk sticks and stealing as much free Wi-Fi as I can. For you, this time is the pinnacle of your entire school life, the culmination of 12 hard years of studying, tests, and tears.
As an adult who is currently undergoing her fourth mid-life crisis in five years, I think I’m qualified enough to tell you that the results of this test will not define who you are now or in the years to come (unless of course you want to be a doctor or a rocket scientist – if you want to be those things, stop fucking reading this and get back to studying now). These tests and the weeks leading up to it will give you options for your future, but it won’t define your future.
During the HSC, I couldn’t let go of the fact that a degree was the only thing that mattered. So I panicked and jumped into a university course I wasn’t interested in, and I seem to have been jumping ever since. I still haven’t finished studying and most of the time I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m happy in my life. I know how to make friends with someone who doesn’t speak my language, I’ve ridden public transport in foreign countries, gotten a job overseas and met people who’ve inspired me to write and learn and create. I’ve also cried over my life choices, gotten so fat when living abroad that I couldn’t get into my pants and made myself so sick with sunstroke I thought I was going to die in a foreign hostel.
I don’t think I have any of the answers, but I also don’t think you should either (unless you’re trying for that doctor thing, then you should probably have some of them). The world is bigger than that piece of paper telling you what mark you got and it’s bigger than knowing what course you want to study. It’s making a choice, realising you made a mistake and then making another one. It’s meeting strangers and learning who you hate and who you love. It’s leaving everything you’ve known and exploring the world for a week, a month or a year. It’s growing up and realising there is a lot more to life than what you can see from your small vantage point, and deciding to spend some time learning from the world as well as from a higher education institution. It’s also drinking on a boat until 5am and driving a motorbike into a ditch, but that’s probably not the main thing you should focus on right now.
Urgh Shut up Rowan, we know all this, we’re a clued in generation. I’ve already published three books and raised $86,000 for the orphaned kitten foundation, is what most of you are probably thinking. But for those of you who have fallen down the black hole of study notes and textbooks and practice papers, remember to take a few deep breaths and realise that you have many options, hundreds of options in fact, and taking the next few years to work out which is the right one is the best decision you’ll ever make. Unless you’re dead set on being the next Malcolm Turnbull, then you should just fucking get on with it.
Cover by Jazmin Kaynor
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Rowan still hasn’t finished War & Peace, but she did use it to balance her dinner once. Living in London, she’s steadily working her way through the Europe’s great cities and hopes to try every wine in England before her visa expires.