Dear Year 12 student ... take heart

Letters from beyond the study stress

From actor and author, Anna McGahan

Dear Year 12 student,

I almost didn’t complete Year 12. One quarter of it was done in a different kind of lockdown, in a hospital ward with an eating disorder, hidden from the world in shame and self-loathing. I did my exams from that disinfected room, not really knowing if I had a future, or if it was going to be worth the pain of the present. I had my heart broken for the first time and I had a beloved pet die without me close by.

Anna McGahan

Anna McGahan, author of ‘Metanoia’ and actor. Beata Mazur

School felt insurmountable. Social politics between girls tormented me. There was so much pressure to make it the year that defined my future … and so many times I felt like I squandered that pivotal time.
But I can tell you, fifteen years later, now a professional actor and writer, a loved friend, a leader, pilgrim, partner and mother, that it could not be further from the truth.

God will use this – all of this – for the creation of a future that is exceptional

This year will be turned into something really, really good. I know it can feel overwhelming, in moments. But God will use this – all of this – for the creation of a future that is exceptional. You will be set free into an unexpected and invigorating adulthood. You will gain ownership over your own story and realise you’re actually really good at writing and living it. You will see God’s flourishes and fingerprints over what you felt wasn’t ’good enough’, turning it into something to be so utterly amazed at.

Trust me. Year 12 only takes you to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, my friend. There’s a whole universe out there, waiting to embrace you.

– Anna

From co-founder and managing director at Thankyou, Daniel Flynn

Year 12 isn’t the most comfortable year at the best of times, let alone throwing a global pandemic – with so much uncertainty and change – on top of it.

Daniel Flynn, co-founder and managing director at Thankyou

To be honest, Year 12 gave me a recurring dream for years, where I’d turn up to my maths exam, and I wasn’t prepared – a nightmare!

One of the most valuable skills we can develop as humans is the ability to deal with change. It turns out there are plenty of things in life that happen (like a global pandemic!) we aren’t prepared for.

I think that it’s the disruptions that will make you one of the most prepared classes yet.

But what makes or breaks us isn’t how well we study all the theories and facets of the change we face, but how we handle ourselves in it. We learn to make good decisions under pressure, or pick ourselves up when we’re overwhelmed, or even ask for help when we need it.

Some could say the class of 2021 is heading out into the world underprepared because of this year’s disruptions, but I think that it’s the disruptions that will make you one of the most prepared classes yet. You’ve got this.

– Daniel

From radio and TV host, Ash London

Dear Year 12 student,

2020/2021 hey. What a time.  

It feels like a million years ago that I was staring down the barrel of my Year 12 exams, and I remember thinking that my entire future weighed in the balance. I’ll give you the hot tip – it doesn’t. 

Ash London, TV and radio host

This is just the START of the adventure, and just the start of the learning you’re about to do.

Luckily for you – most of the learning from here on out isn’t graded. So keep working hard, do yourself proud, but please don’t equate ‘the big score’ with your self-worth or your future potential for success. The most important thing right now is for you to be kind to yourself. Go easy on yourself. Speak to yourself in the same way you would speak to a close friend or someone you love and respect. This year has been hard enough, so don’t make it harder by an unfair amount of pressure on yourself. 

Speak to yourself in the same way you would speak to a close friend or someone you love and respect.

Find time to get outside, breathe in the fresh air, eat food that nourishes your body and get your body moving. Spend time with people you love who make you laugh. These are the things that give me perspective when I feel like life is getting a bit too stressful.  If you set up these habits early on, they will stick with you well into your adult life. They will act as an important ‘home base’ for whenever things get overwhelming (because they will). Life isn’t about scores and grades and achievements; life is about relationships, experiences and lessons.

You got this!

– x ash london

From Catholic priest and singer/songwriter, Father Rob Galea

These are exciting times.

It might not feel like they are. In fact, you might feel quite the opposite. But the reality is that this is a time of opportunity. It is a time of new beginnings …

Priest and worship leader, Father Rob Galea

You are making history – the first Year 12s to graduate in a time where the world seems dull and unexciting. But I encourage you to think about it as being a time of opportunity because, ultimately, it is about perspective.

You can take a time of mess and the actual mess can become the message. The ordinary can become extraordinary. The dull might become the brightest light in your life. I believe that every situation can be used for our good if we have the right perspective.

This is a time of opportunity. This is a time of grace. This is a time of new beginnings.

You can stop and feel sorry for yourself or you can look up and see that the future is bright. This is a time of opportunity. This is a time of grace. This is a time of new beginnings.

There is a verse in the Bible which says exactly this. It is Romans 28:8. This verse says that God is able to use every situation for the good of those who love him. It’s because people who love God don’t look at themselves and their own situation, but they look at a higher perspective. They look at God who stands taller than anything and anyone else. When we look beyond ourselves, we stand on the shoulders of a giant.

I know that this is going to be a time of blessing. You’re going to look back and think, ‘Wow, we were the graduating year during the pandemic, during the plague.’

But it’s also the year where you graduated to be something bigger, something greater. Take this opportunity. Be grateful for this opportunity. Don’t look back feeling sorry for yourself, but think about the graces that have come during this time. Think about the advantage you have had, especially that you get to stand on the shoulders of a giant.

I wish you all the best and I know that greatness is going to come out of this moment. Mess it may be, but it’s going to be a great message. A message of a life lived to the full, standing on the shoulders of a giant.

– Father Rob Galea

From NATSICC national youth councillor, Sabrina-Ann Stevens

Congratulations on making it to Year 12, and for all your efforts in getting this far!

Sabrina-Ann Stevens, NATSICC national youth councillor

High school is a difficult time as you juggle the pressures of assessment, family, friendships, part-time jobs and the expectations to do well. It is a lot to balance, but you are doing an excellent job! Even if you feel uncertain about how you’re going, you’re most likely doing better than you realise, so give yourself some credit!

I was once that year 12 student who lacked interest in striving for good grades as I struggled to balance the worries of home life and uncertainty after high school. I had no comprehension of life after Year 12, nor what I wanted to do, so it was easier to lower my aim to simply passing so that I could ‘breathe’ again.

You’re most likely doing better than you realise, so give yourself some credit!

Growing up in regional Australia, I found post-school career opportunities to be limited. However, completing Year 12 provided me with flexibility and choice in pursuing further interests.

It wasn’t until seven years after high school and attempts at different study paths, I finally enrolled at university where I now study a Bachelor of Arts with double majors! I also sit on the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council where I focus on the youth side of Indigenous faith, spirituality and contribution within the Catholic Church of Australia.

So whether you are aiming towards the top echelon of the ATAR, or are simply trying to successfully pass Year 12 – your goals are your own and you are doing a commendable job in challenging times.

I encourage you to strive to do your best in all upcoming exams and future endeavours. Find your key support circles and be kind to everyone you meet. I wish you all the best and may you achieve everything you set your heart upon!


From CEO and founding director of Brave Foundation, Bernadette Black

Dear Year 12 student,

Hello from Tasmania! No matter how things look right now, there are some things you absolutely need to know:

Bernadette Black

Bernadette Black, CEO and founding director, Brave Foundation

  • You are intelligent.
  • You are worthy and deserve every good thing.
  • You will change the culture of our nation, from where you are – trust this!
  • Champions will open doors for you when you ask questions.
  • Family will love you always and teachers are actually great people if you need help.
  • Humour is your friend and can be a strength.
  • How you see the world matters.
  • Your vulnerability is another person’s breakthrough.
  • Our world needs your vision – really – be brave.
  • You can have an incredible journey of faith.
  • Your faith can guide you all the days of your life.

Year 12 student, I encourage you to make three promises to yourself, that you will meet down the track. At your age, I did this. My promises were full-on because, at your age, I had a baby.

The three promises I made to myself were: 1. To be a good mum; 2. To finish my education; and 3. To write a pamphlet to help other teenage mothers. These have all been achieved, and then surpassed, and have taken me to places I could never dream of. I didn’t expect to be a mum so young, and Year 12 student, you didn’t expect to be studying during a pandemic. But I know that, if you so choose, this challenge can be the making of you.

Any sadness or worry you encounter will be temporary – I promise that.

Trust those around you that know who you are, that know your heart. They will encourage your passions. You will build many muscles throughout this time; I’m not just talking physically, but spiritual and emotional strength. These will serve you well for the rest of your life. If you are anything like I am, you may even wonder why sometimes you feel so soft and compassionate to others’ needs. This is a strength in itself, and the right people will rally around you to help bolster you when needed.

There are many lessons you will learn in your life. Any sadness or worry you encounter will be temporary – I promise that. You will have the greatest gift God could ever give you to navigate these times: those who love and cherish you for who you are, and the one you can turn to in prayer that created you. God knows you are doing Year 12 in such a bizarre year and is waiting to have a conversation in prayer with you.

When you choose faith, I am here to tell you that although there will be some tougher times, the blessings that you will encounter in your life will include understanding, love, joy, relationships, profession and influence (as strange as that sounds!). It will surprise you how others view you and your family, for being truly who you are, as you walk through this strange time.

Stand up tall, remember your posture and go apprehend every good thing that you have been designed to live!

I am so proud of you. We need you. Now go write your three promises and see where they are at in 2021!

– Bernadette x

From C3 pastor and communicator with International Justice Mission, Mitch Hammond

Dear Year 12 students,

Mitch Hammond

Mitch Hammond, senior lead, church activation, International Justice Mission and C3 pastor

You might not quite realise it just yet, but your whole world it about to change. 

I know even just the thought of more change in light of what’s already unfolded in 2021 could make some of you a little uneasy and put you on edge. Let’s face it, going through Year 12 is wild enough, without the added complexity of a global pandemic! But you did it, and here you are, so close to finishing.

Finish this season with your head held high, no matter your final mark.

Despite what you want your life to look like beyond high school, I’m praying you give it everything you have in these final days. Don’t waste the moments, embrace them, pour everything you’ve got into every moment you’ve got, because you’ll never have this time again. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later.

Finally, my prayer is that you finish this season with your head held high, no matter your final mark and the setbacks you may have faced; despite the highs and lows, the triumphs or tragedies, you can look back on this season and smile.

The world is waiting for you.

– Mitch 

From school chaplain, Damien Whitington

Damien Whitington, senior chaplain, Northern Beaches Christian School

Damien Whitington, senior chaplain, Northern Beaches Christian School, Sydney

Year 12,  

You are nearly there!

Through reading the wisdom of an old king at the end of his life in the book of Ecclesiastes, I’ve been reflecting over the past few years that God made us live in a world of seasons. Every season has its beauty; and every season has its turmoil. And just like summer and winter, no season lasts forever.

I vividly remember the stress of looming exams, the fear of underperforming and the feeling of always having more study to do. I also remember wishing the next season would come quickly so that I didn’t have to deal with all this turmoil! In hindsight though, that was a little silly of me, as I would have turmoil in the next season too. I would only be trading one turmoil for another. Even worse, I could miss the beauty of the season I was currently in.    

Don’t wish everything in this season away too quickly. There are many things you won’t be able to experience again.

Let us be grateful for all the beautiful gifts we get to enjoy in this season – and this season alone. Don’t miss out on the beauty. Don’t wish everything in this season away too quickly. There are many things you won’t be able to experience again. 

‘God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God.’ (Ecclesiastes 3:13) 

– Damien

From senior assistant minister, Rev. Jenni Stoddart

Dear Year 12 student,

Jenni Stoddart

Rev. Jenni Stoddart, senior assistant minister, St Phil’s Eastwood Anglican, Sydney

I once saw a friend bite into his hamburger just as a seagull poo dropped on to it. Bird poo – that’s what 2021 makes me think of. FOMO was last year; we’ve swapped that term out for disappointment. It is, of course, deeply awkward in the middle of a worldwide pandemic to be disappointed about what you have lost from your final year in high school. But it’s okay. God works when we bring our awkward realities before him.

The writer of Psalm 84 stands in the temple, God’s dwelling place, and says: ‘My heart and my entire being shout for joy to the living God. Even the birds find a home there, and the swallow builds a nest, where she can protect her young.’

Did the psalmist see the awkward reality of bird poo on the temple floor? Did disgust turn to wonder as he followed the grey stains up the wall to finally see a swallow and her young hidden in the temple’s beams?

If a swallow’s needs are not too petty for God’s presence, then neither are your disappointments, fears and hopes.

In the midst of a year where we have seen grand suffering and deep loss, the first place to look is Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God’s dwelling place with us. Not a building, but God himself standing in the awkward reality of our world. In the oxymoron of his life-giving death, we see God ‘in whom we live and have our being’ shaking us free from both fear and disappointment. Emmanuel’s gift is the certainty of his love and presence on offer now and for all eternity for all who put their faith in him.

Looking to Jesus Christ fills us with hope for all people, even when the present is painful and disappointing, even when life feels like standing in a pile of bird poo.

Dear Year 12 student, my heart and my entire being shout for joy to the living God, for in Christ he has space for you – if a swallow’s needs are not too petty for God’s presence, then neither are your disappointments, fears and hopes. As you stand in the bird poo of today, look up at Jesus and know his certain presence and his guarantee of eternity. He is with you. And be careful eating burgers on the beach this summer.

– Jenni