HSC exams kick off

As thousands of young men and women prepare to undertake their first HSC exam this morning, it's like I can almost hear the rustling of papers as they scramble to fit in one last revision of their notes.

It's unlikely the Class of 2020 will read my musings, so instead, this message is directed to you, their parents, family, friends, neighbours and support network.

In these past few weeks, I have heard many students say '13 years have been leading up to this moment.' But I disagree. The HSC exams are a mark in time; measuring students' ability to draw on their memory and convey their understanding of a topic or concept, on a particular day.  

Yes, it’s important students dedicate themselves to achieving well and giving their all as they sit down to the paper.  But as they pick up their pens, it's up to all of us to encourage them to be hope-filled, not weighed down by expectations.

Beyond the classrooms and textbooks is an exciting world that awaits, filled with endless possibilities where they can explore their interests and carve out experiences on their own terms. The HSC is just one possible path that can lead them towards their dreams.

I recently heard an interview with St Francis Xavier's College student, Charlie Hawke. In it, he said "Unlike those who are older than us, our entire living memory is based around school. We have much less life experience to draw from to help us get through this time."

From a purely mathematical perspective, Charlie is correct, the students sitting down to today's exams have had a lot less time on earth than most reading this. And yet, if this pandemic has shown us anything, it is the strength of today's youth and a maturity well beyond their years. Amidst the chaos of a global pandemic, students have exemplified profound resilience, fortitude and adaptability as they persevered with their study. They have demonstrated extraordinary care, respect and concern for their fellow man as they stood together in solidarity (virtually or otherwise). They have displayed immense courage and spirit when they have reached out for support.

As an educator with more than 40 years of experience, and a director of 57 schools, I can tell you that this cohort is a gem like no other. Diamonds form under pressure, and these students' brilliance is undeniable.

And so, as their supporters we must rally around them now, and remind them of this. Offer them support and a listening ear. Reassure them the results from these exams do not take into account what type of person they are, or will go on to become.  Remind them that if this year has shown us anything it’s that tings don't always go according to plan, but that's where some of the most exciting experiences and innovations can stem from. Encourage them to be their own champions, appreciating their worth by means that can't be measured on paper. Importantly, assure them it's natural to feel heightened emotion during this time of transition but that we're with them every step of the way.

We must do this because as Charlie points out, for many, the routine of school is all they think they know. However, this year has taught them about life, and that will put them in good stead for years to come.

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Gerard Mowbray Image
Gerard Mowbray

Gerard Mowbray is the Director at the Catholic Schools Office, Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.