VCE results day. The anxious wait ends for thousands of students across the state as they find out whether or not their score secures their desired passage for the years ahead. Of course, we’ve heard it a million times and it will be repeated in many homes and schools over the coming days: you are more than just your ATAR score. Of course this is true, and of course it serves as comfort for those who may be disappointed by their score. But if we cut the bubble wrap and focus on some hard truths, Bill Gates style, what else should we be telling our year 12 cohort right now?
If you are disappointed with your score, reflect on what you could have done better.
It’s easier to blame others – parents, work, teachers, friends – for results that may not have lived up to your expectations. But ask yourself – what could you have done differently? Were you committed? Did you take responsibility for your education and put in the extra hours of study? Did you attend the master classes like thousands of other students in your cohort? How many hours study did you really put in? Did you take responsibility for your future, or did you expect to coast along and watch it all fall into place?
If you did give it your all, remember that resilience and attitude is what leads to success in the long run.
Welcome to a world of competition
Unfortunately, our education system is designed to shield you from failure until you begin VCE. From years 7-10 there’s little accountability for not meeting learning outcomes, and you have naturally progressed in spite of the fact that you may not have performed to your optimum in these years. Today is your first taste of the real world – of competition – and there are thousands of students you have been ranked against this morning. If you think the ATAR system is tough, what until you have to apply for jobs, attend interviews, and compete with ambitious colleagues in a workplace. You are now a member of the real world, and the real world does not care about your sensibilities as much as your teachers once did.
To achieve your goals, no one else will do it for you
The thing about Secondary Education is that for most of you, there was always someone to help rescue you. Parents, teachers, aides, social workers – you have been supported all the way through your schooling. Now it is up to you to make something of your life – whether you have performed well in VCE or not. You are no longer answerable to teachers and third parties, but from here on, you are most definitely answerable to yourself. You are no longer someone else’s responsibility.
You are not that special
In 2012, at Wellesley High in Massachusetts, English teacher David McCullough Jr. stepped onto the school’s football field to deliver a commencement speech of this very title. His message was wonderfully accurate:
‘You are not special. You are not exceptional.’
‘Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.’
‘Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have. And, certainly, we’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs. Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet…. And now you’ve conquered high school…But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.’
Today, you are one of over 47,000 Victorian students to receive a year 12 score. These 47,000 students will be competing with you for university courses, TAFE courses, apprenticeships and jobs, among other things. They’ll be doing so when youth unemployment is at record highs, and when the forces of globalisation mean an influx of able migrants will also compete for valuable positions in our highly competitive society.
In your school, you may have been a big fish in a small pond, but now the pond has widened to an ocean, and you will be just one of 7 Billion people finding their way in this world. You’ll either be the best, or you won’t be, and it’s more likely for most that the latter will be the case, because if everyone is special then no-one is.
Today marks just one of many achievements or failures you will experience in this life.
Good luck and make something of yours.