29th February, 2024
Hey, legend. How’s it going?
Keeping your head down? Studying hard? Partying harder? Unconcerned about the possibility of global disease epidemics? Good. I can’t say too much because I don’t want to be responsible if writing to you changes the course of reality for the worse. But I want you to know that at the blissfully young age of seventeen, you should be taking your freedoms by the throat and squeezing them dry every single day.
I know you’ve got those HSC exams coming up, and I know you feel like you’ve coasted through modern history and biology this year. At times, you struggle to pay attention in class, and the homework load is insane. I know you’re going to spend hours this afternoon re-writing notes, trying to memorise the entire syllabus last minute. I won’t tell you not to, but I wish you’d learn to identify and prevent burnout. And for the love of God, I wish you’d realise how completely insignificant that mark in advanced English is in the grand scheme of your life.
You know those insanely complex numbers and graphs and speeches you receive in years 11 and 12? Yeah, it’s all rubbish. None of it makes logical sense, and none of it is ethically sound. Most of it is pointless. It’s too late to change it now, but you might have been happier choosing music instead of legal studies. You would have been more content going to training every week than you were burning yourself out re-writing notes.
It’s a ridiculous expectation that’s put on you and your peers; to make decisions to shape the rest of your life – when you’ve barely gotten started. Your school pushes students towards university like there’s no other respectable option, and that’s simply not true.
By the time you’re 20, two of your siblings have apprenticeships locked down in occupations they love, and they’re certainly making more money than you are. Money isn’t everything, and neither is tertiary education. High school does a poor job at accommodating different types of people and different definitions of success.
You’re going to get a few really exciting emails soon. You’ll thank Mrs Quade (God bless her soul) for nagging you about applying for universities. You get accepted to every university that you apply to before you even sit your HSC. Bathurst. Newcastle, UNSW, and Wollongong.
I know you hated the journalism professor at CSU Bathurst. I know that open day made you feel hopeless and heartbroken, but screw that guy. Unfortunately, many older journalists are vivaciously arrogant and condescending, and he was one of them. A journalism degree is not out of reach, the field is not as challenging to get into as he said, and you 100% do have what it takes to build a fulfilling and successful career. But, just so you know, that ATAR you worked so hard for doesn’t hold any weight at all outside of high school.
Some people won’t find their passions and build their careers for many years following graduation, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But you’ve already found your purpose, and you’re pretty clear on what you want. You don’t consider your options for very long. You know that you’ve wanted UOW since you were like 12, and after an excellent interview, they send you an unconditional offer of acceptance to your dream degree.
The degree is fantastic, the campus is awesome. I know you haven’t done a lot of research, and you’ve never visited UOW, but your gut feeling is dead right this time. You’re made to live in a rainforest and create endless art. This is as close as you get. Genuinely, your work ethic right now astounds me. This is definitely the most considerable workload you’ll ever have to manage, but you’ve got this.
Your marks don’t hurt, but success isn’t based on numbers, especially for creatives. Your value is based on the quality of your character, not on your analysis of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. You didn’t get in based on your application; hell, they barely looked at your marks. They wanted to talk about your hobbies, your personality, your future hopes and goals. Not to mention, the universities insatiably want to make money, so as long as you’ll pay up, they’ll probably let you in. That’s just basic capitalism.
That’s all far off into the future for you, though. Right now, prioritise freedom. You don’t even realise how lucky you are. You can go outside. You can sit in a real-life classroom. For reasons I am not at liberty to discuss, the class of 2021 don’t get the pleasure. So go out with your friends every chance you get, stick with your hobbies, and make a bunch of beautiful memories and mistakes. You only get one go of it.
In a few months, you’ll start understanding how quickly things change. Your friends are important, but you will grow and change so much, and so will they. A lot of them will grow in a different direction. That’s okay; we all have our own paths.
You might be worried about losing touch with them after school. But if you’re honest, most of them don’t make you as heard, loved and accepted as you deserve. Some of them will grow with you, but they won’t be the ones you expect. As you find yourself, you’ll also find new people who understand and support you better.
After all the fuss of exams and graduation, you’ll find yourself with a bit more time on your hands and a giant invisible question mark on your forehead. Make the most of the uncertainty. When you get a chance (and trust me, you WILL get the chance), take some time, and learn to be alone. Time with yourself is critical when you’re finding your way outside of that school structure. But take the chance now to grow because the value of your character will always outweigh any number placed on your intelligence.
Also, before I go, just some quick driving advice… there’s going to be a point where you’re driving back to Dubbo on your own for the first time. No matter who has the right of way, don’t try to go up against a truck. Thanks.