Updated: Nov 15, 2021
Image credit: Jiayue Li
As the old cohort rushes to the finish line, eager for their long-awaited freedom, a new group prepare themselves for the journey that awaits.
The HSC is undeniably a challenging year.
From the looming assessments wavering menacingly in the wind like a forgotten flag, through to having to consider your future career goals and university options, through to balancing your much-deprived social life with your sky-high academic aspirations - it can become difficult to reconcile the often incongruent expectations of parents, peers, teachers, mentors and ultimately - yourself. And indeed, within this dissonance, a sort of beautiful chaos emerges that is understandably a difficulty to navigate.
What initially seemed to be a breeze of a final year filled with study dates, beautiful cafes, the aroma of croissants and raisin toasts, and wafts of matcha lattes carrying in it your dreams and hopes - the precariousness of it all quickly unveils itself as the barista yells out your name and snaps you back into reality. The new approach to your school life where you finally 'get it together' slowly begins to drift and fade away from your grasp as you realise that the piling responsibilities, assessments and deadlines masked your naive and romanticised projections of year 12 as being the year you 'change'.
Then, as you sit there on your phone, procrastination tightly wrapping around you as you envisage your future crumbling, these emotions quickly transform into a sort of psychological whiplash of guilt, anxiety and uncertainty.
Please do not be scared.
In fact, without these emotions, that visceral gut-response where you feel your stomach turn in on itself as you suddenly feel engulfed by a wave of insecurity - you are probably doing something wrong. We need this fear. This feeling of uncertainty. Because it is in these very conditions of instability and confusion where one will be able to find the resilience to confront the journey.
I speak not as some TedTalk spokesperson with some fascinating insight on the meaning of life, or some crazy story about how I was able to unlock the part of the brain responsible for laziness, but as someone who has sat in your seat, walked in your shoes, read a similar 'self-help' article, and came out of the journey unscathed despite feeling hopeless at many points along the path before reaching this very moment in which I now have the opportunity to write these words for you. Perhaps, soon, you too will find yourself in the same position as I am in right now.
During my HSC, I was able to score a 99.40 ATAR and two state ranks (I came 6th in NSW for English Advanced and 9th in Business Studies Accelerated which I completed when I was in year 11). Although these numbers might seem impressive, I'm here to explain that my journey was no different from anyone else's. I'm here to stress that the emotional turmoil, uncertainty and insecurity is something that is undeniably interwoven into the shared experience that we have as doe-eyed teenagers and on-the-cusp adults trying our very best to navigate through the elusive terrains of our 'final' year of education (not 'final' for some of us who want to continue into university-level education) whilst simultaneously trying to make seemingly concrete decisions about the future trajectory of our life. On top of this, I know it is a scary thing to try and meet the expectations of the many people in our lives, repelled by the thought that we are going to disappoint those we care about deeply and more so ourselves (perhaps the latter is even more fear inducing given the fact that we spend most of our time evading the heartbreaking truth that we are in fact imperfect and flawed creatures).
Indeed, with all of this going on, it feels like we are shooting out missiles in the dark, sending out sparks of light into the abyss.
But even shooting stars are beautiful, right?
If there was anything that I learnt about myself in the HSC journey, and if there is anything that one can take away from it, any message that you can bring back with you after you set this page down, click the 'x' button and continue your scrolling - it would be this: the universe works in miraculous ways to ensure there is a consistent and delicate balance between beauty and darkness within our experiences. Like the ancient Chinese conception of Ying and Yang, or the time worn stories of the moon and the sun, there is a constant battle between seemingly incongruent forces and energies suspended in an eternal dialogue with one another, a perpetual dance between the ups and downs and lefts and rights of life.
Though the journey indeed has many points of inflexions - the truth remains that our difficulties and hardships eventually turn into joy and smiles, the rain eventually stops and the light peeks through the clouds. This equilibria or cause and effect principle informs the very nature of existence, and is a powerful law because it means that our struggles and hardships will naturally and undoubtedly be replenished by its friendlier counterpart.
And there is beauty in this balance.
When I look back on the HSC, I do so fondly - something which many of my students harass me for in disbelief.
Because we'll receive marks we are happy with, we'll make beautiful memories with our dearest friends (of which I was lucky enough to have 7 who made the year all the more special), we'll learn from our teachers (of which I am forever indebted to as they have instilled the passion I have today for teaching and working with students), our parents and siblings will reassure us, and we'll reminisce on the laughter and all those moments where we took a step back and realised that the HSC year is the final year of being a high school student pampered and taken care of before we turn into adults pushed out into the reality of the world that awaits.
I say we relish in of all that the HSC has to offer because it is quite transiently beautiful if you look at the journey close enough.
Written by Melvern Ted Kurniawan.