Each year our alumnae impart wisdom to our Year 12 students. Below is two of the letters shared with the Class of 2019.
Congratulations on making it this far! You’ve already achieved so much this year, and hopefully really enjoyed the year along the way. I finished Strathy in 2008, which makes me feel incredibly old! In the 11 years since leaving school, I’ve changed jobs and countries more times than I can count, met incredible people and generally had a wonderful life. I thought Year 12 was fun, but really – the best is yet to come! I’d like to share some things that I’ve learnt along the way, that I wish someone had told me when I was about to finish school.
First and foremost, your coming exams may feel like the end of the world, and while they are important (you’re not going to believe this part), in 11 years, you will struggle to remember your final score. If you think of your career as a house, then your exam results are just the front door. Yes, it’s the easiest way in, but if you find the front door is locked, there is always a window that’s been left open a crack. And once you make it inside – and you will, if you want to – you might realise that you don’t actually like this particular house, and that actually, you prefer the one across the street. Usually, taking a roundabout route to where you thought you wanted to go is the best way to find out if it’s what you actually want.
Secondly, I encourage you to take yourself out of your context. Strathy and school life is usually neat and tidy and organised, and you know what is expected of you. But life is chaotic, and within the chaos lies opportunity. Think of all the familiar things around you – your school, your friends, your family, your city, your culture, your language, your country. These things all define you and shape your thinking in a way that is almost impossible to appreciate until you are removed from them. Who are you, when you can be anyone? What do you think, when you’re allowed to think anything? What do you do, when you can do anything? Anything you can do to expose yourself to new people, new ideas and new ways of living will begin to help you answer these big questions. I wasn’t able to answer these questions until I uprooted myself completely and threw myself into a building a totally alien life overseas. But taking yourself out of your context doesn’t have to involve moving to a different country (although I would highly recommend it!) – it can be as simple as being open to accepting a university offer in a different city, or starting to volunteer in something you are passionate about, or going on a solo trip somewhere. As you start to learn new things about yourself, don’t be afraid to change the course of your life to match the new you. Just because you made a decision to begin a certain degree because 18-year-old you thought it was what you wanted, doesn’t mean you can’t change direction completely if you discover a new passion, or realise that the life you are heading for isn’t quite you anymore.
In terms of choosing a career, the subjects you are good at are only one slice of the pie. It’s taken me years to articulate why my original career choice wasn’t right for me, and it came down to recognizing what makes me happy, and comparing that to what my everyday looked like. One of the things in my life that makes me really happy is interacting and connecting with people – old friends, new colleagues, the old lady who started talking to me on the tram. It’s a really personal need, and because I was constantly meeting new people while I was at university and in my casual jobs, I took it for granted that this need of mine would be fulfilled, and didn’t specifically recognise it as something that I needed to be happy. Try to find your happiness buttons. It might be learning something new, or caring for someone, or being really active (if so, PLEASE don’t get an office job!). It is likely to be hidden in your everyday life and in the activities you choose to do – so in times when you feel really happy and stimulated, try to reflect on why. Make sure you speak to someone in the industry or job you are heading towards and figure out what an average Tuesday looks like. Will you find happiness in that average Tuesday? In my experience, people love to talk about themselves, and most people you contact on LinkedIn will happily meet you for a coffee to tell you about their career. Reach out – what’s the worst that could happen?!
Become comfortable with failure. Or at least, don’t take it personally. This is one I still struggle with often, so I don’t have much advice for you. Only one small tip: when you’re in familiar surroundings, it’s easy not to fail because you have safety nets all around you – put yourself in situations where you are sure to fail, if only to prove to yourself that you can cope.
Seek dissent. It’s easy and comfortable to float through life surrounded by people who think the same way as us, but this doesn’t help us to grow and learn. Find people who think differently to you. Read books written by people you disagree with. Articulate why you disagree with them, and this will help you to form your own ideas and learn your own values.
Recognise your privilege and be grateful for what you have. We are so lucky to have the whole world at our feet.
Assume good intent. When anyone disappoints, hurts or wrongs you, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that they are targeting you, or that it is your fault. Start with the assumption that people intend to do good, and don’t intend to hurt. This is almost always the case, and there is very often a different explanation for why they acted the way they did. Think twice before you think the worst of someone.
Whenever you feel lost in life, volunteer. Help a friend, or donate your time to a cause you care about. Not only will this help you to gain perspective, but I have found helping others to be a brilliant motivating force. Volunteering isn’t always about being selfless – when you volunteer, you are useful and appreciated, and everyone needs to feel like that once in a while.
Welcome change. I’ve left some of my best friends and favourite memories behind in different time zones, and it’s always painful and hard to leave. But when change comes in my life, I try to be thankful and remember one of my favourite quotes, by A. A. Milne from Winnie the Pooh, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”.
All the best with the next exciting period of your life. Whatever you do, and wherever you go, throw yourself completely into it. There is nothing to be gained by holding back.
Feel free to reach out if you ever need to.
Kind regards, Elle Bartnik – Class of 2008
Dear Year 12 student,
I am writing this letter to wish you good luck as you face the end of year 12 and as you prepare to leave Strathcona with your hopes and aspirations.
You have worked hard to reach this important point in your life and now it is time to prepare to move to the next exciting stage. There will be many opportunities and choices for you to make and they may come when you least expect them or in “disguise” and not always at a convenient time. So, always be open-minded and be prepared to take up a challenge. Whilst Year 12 is a turning point in your education, it does not define your future. The future will be whatever you make of it. I believe, “if you want something to happen you have to make it happen”. Seek a diversity of experiences to help you make choices that are right for you and in doing so, you will often find yourself outside your comfort zone. You will find many people around you now and in your life to come, who will support you in pursuit of your dreams and aspirations.
It is 53 years since I completed year 12, then Matriculation. In 1960’s, girls were not expected to reach year 12 and even less likely to pursue science. Science and maths came naturally to me, but I struggled with subjects such as English, History and the Arts. I always enjoyed team sports offered at Strathcona and participated in teams whenever possible. In year 12, 1966, I was a Prefect and House Captain of Gilbert. To my absolute delight, Gilbert was the overall winner for 1966. Year 12 was very full, and I confess to being somewhat distracted from my academic responsibilities. Although I did not achieve results for my first preferences, I did embark on a very fulfilling career in Medical Laboratory Science, which spanned 43 years (1967-2010) and offered many opportunities and challenges along the way. During this time, I married and had a family, juggling studies, a career and a lifetime of learning. I am now retired and, looking back, I do believe that Strathcona prepared me well for all facets of life and gave me confidence to make choices and face challenges.
Education has changed a great deal in 50 years, but we still have our doubts and fears, and share the same need for happiness and fulfilment.
Be honest and true to yourself. Follow your heart and do your best. Life will return the rewards you deserve.
My very best wishes to you for the future.
Kind regards, Catherine (Cate) Clarke (Cathie Cameron ’66)