Adapt, Improvise and Overcome.

At our recent Scholars and Leaders Assembly our 2018 Dux, Olivia Muirhead shared her wisdom on how best to succeed in Year 12 with our senior year levels.

“I feel truly blessed, humbled and grateful to be here to share my journey and welcome us into 2019. I never expected in my wildest dreams that I would have this opportunity.

Whilst you may not believe me, and I feel somewhat silly even saying this, I am not naturally smart. I’m certainly not the smartest person in this room, not smarter than many of my beautiful peers and likely not smarter than many of you! In all honesty I do not know my times tables, I use my fingers when counting in maths. I am appalling at spelling… and I admit I had to use a dictionary to simply spell the word ‘appalling’! I love science… however, I find Chemistry very challenging and required hours of practise.

Instead, what I am, is dedicated, self driven and extremely hard working with FAITH that these characteristics will help me achieve my goals. I am Resilient and courageous, having the BRAVERY to overcome challenges in life. Last but not least, I have gratitude and love for my parents, teachers and friends which fills me HAPPINESS.

Just as our school motto says, I am Brave. Happy and Faithful.

It is my understanding that being Academically bright is simply not enough. I believe that the qualities of Bravery, Happiness and Faithfulness are vital to success and I couldn’t have received this score if it wasn’t for those qualities.

Another motto that I have my dad to thank for is Adapt, Improvise and Overcome. For me, these 3 words epitomise Year 12.

Let me start with ADAPT. By definition, this means to change ones behaviours or ideas to become adjusted to new conditions. Let’s face it, Year 12 is challenging. Success demands hard work, and dedication, it is stressful and sacrifices must be made. However, it’s also a year of fun, excitement and reward… you just have to adapt.

For me, this involved a positive mindset towards VCE, approaching it with excitement and enthusiasm. It is only one year of your life, a year which can greatly effect the many years to follow. This caused me to work hard and change some behaviours. I made sacrifices to my life… prioritising study over the use of my phone, social media, social gatherings and other entertainment when required.

That said, I have learnt that balance is the key and so there must be time to relax, have fun and engage with friends and family. We are not a machines, we need brain breaks and we need to find time to do what we love. This was something that I had trouble doing, which in the end I believe made me very sick. Psychology girls, you may know or will learn about Selye GAS model. In brief, Stress leads to elevated stress hormones, including cortisol. When cortisol levels remain high for long periods of time, the immune system becomes impaired. This can leads to various health consequences….Which brings me to my second point, IMPROVISE

Improvise comes from the Latin word improvisus, meaning “unforeseen, unexpected.” Life is very unpredictable and sometimes we have to make the most of an unexpected situation. 8 weeks before exams, I was diagnosed with appendicitis, Messenteric Adenitis (which is swollen lymph nodes in the stomach) and later Labarynthitis which is inflammation of the inner ear causing severe nausea and head spins.

I could not look at a screen or read a book for 3 weeks. I had stomach surgery and was hospitalised for 7 days. I missed the last 2 weeks of term 3 including 4 SACs and Practice Exams. This was very unexpected and a major hurdle in my Year 12 experience.

My pre planned study timetable was no longer applicable, which lead to some major improvisation. I needed to rest, I needed to sleep and I needed to recover. However, I did what I could for brief periods of time, contemplating notes in my mind and using mental retrieval practises to consolidate my knowledge. I listened to audio versions of my typed or written notes because I couldn’t read, or pick up a pen… hence I adapted to my situation and I improvised by using the resources available to me.

Improvisation is not only used in extreme circumstances…I also used it most days in the class room. From PowerPoints to SACs, there are always unpredictable questions but it’s how you deal with them that matters. Never give up or loose confidence to have a go! This philosophy reflects the wise words of Henry Ford. “Whether you think you can or you can’t is probably right”. I believe the strongest indicator for success is a positive self-esteem and attitude. If you believe you can do it and that you deserve it…. then with determination success will follow.

As I wrote this speech I began to contemplate what success really means to me, and decided to demonstrate this with an acrostic poem! To me, success is: 

That leads me to my final word… OVERCOME. When we have adapted to our situation, and improvised as best we can, overcoming our predicament naturally follows. I like to think of it as climbing a mountain. At the bottom, we see the huge rise above with the summit staring down at us. We may begin to question our capability for success… however, we adapt our minds to have confidence and determination. The journey uphill will be rewarding, with beautiful scenery and fulfilling progress. However, it will have challenges. During these times, you improvise as best you can. We may share the load of our pack with friends, ask other mountain climbers for advice, use trees as umbrellas or grass as bedding. Eventually, given hard work and commitment, we reach the summit. We reach our dreams. We reach our potential. We reach far beyond we ever thought possible. And that was my journey.

Lastly, I’d like to share 2 key tips I found useful.

1. Make the most of your wonderful teachers. You are all blessed to be here at Strathcona. It is an incredible community, with wise, compassionate and enthusiastic teachers. Never take them for granted, always show them respect and gratitude for their knowledge. Ask as many questions as you need until you understand.

2. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of sleep. I prioritised sleep over anything else… including study! I would never study past 9pm and rose at 6am for a run and morning revision in the library. I found this routine prepared me for the day and ensured I had 8-9 hours sleep.

I won’t bore you with too much research, but Studies have shown that when sleep is restricted to 6 hours per night for just 5 nights, cognitive performance equates to having 48 hours sleep debt. Moreover, studies using rats have shown that when they learn how to complete a maze during the day, the same neural pathways light up when they go to bed. This suggests the brain uploads day time knowledge and consolidates it into longterm memory as we sleep! Who says study can’t be relaxing! Find what works best for you, but sleep is number one!

So to conclude the overall message I am trying to convey to you girls is, believe in yourself. Work really hard and success will follow if that is what you desire. You do not need to be the smartest student in your cohort, and I am honestly testimony to that! As a Strathy girl, you have bravery, faith and happiness in your blood, so remember to practise these qualities.”

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