It’s that time of year again, where year 12 students all around Australia lock themselves in the quietest corners of their houses, or the busiest sections of their libraries, to cram the final pieces of information in their heads before they must sit their final exams. Hell.

This year I belong to this pitiful group, forced to anchor themselves at home and focus on their studies. I do not recommend it. What makes us so unfortunate is that we have no idea how to study. For two years those in year 12 have had no other option than to sit and focus for hours on end. Now, however, the opportunity to be a teenager and experience the last drops of childhood is also available. Do we follow those before us and give up our lives for the next couple of months, or can we find a balance between the two?

There is also an extra element of stress almost as bad and certainly less talked about: the overwhelming anxiety about what comes next. Whether you’ve known what degree you want to pursue since year nine, or have never been the academic type, everybody feels some way about the world they’ve known coming to an end, and the new adult world appearing. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the routine you’ve been living for the last 13+ years begins to fade away. You appear at the highest diving platform, with a queue of people standing behind you, but you are not quite ready to jump.

The first problem starts with the result itself. On 12 December 2022, we receive a number that decides our fate. Those reliant on a competitive ATAR run back and forth from various ‘ATAR calculator’ sites for weeks before year 12 even begins. Will the hard work even pay off? One day a number appears on a screen and doors are open wide or locked shut. Sure there are windows, but have you seen the current state of university bureaucracy?

Put university aside, maybe you want to take a year off, travel or get involved in a program. For my year, the 2022 graduates, this is a scary proposition. We missed two years of opportunity to prepare ourselves by living vicariously through the year levels above us. Time stopped moving at its regular linear speed, and we just appeared at this spot, being flung into adulthood. And we don’t know what to do. To gap year or to stay put? To interstate uni or to not uni at all? These questions need answers, and we don’t have them.

For some of us, the need to stay equipped with all the information available is paramount when making these choices. But we don’t have enough information. The previous years’ extraordinary circumstances don’t really aid in our own understanding. They couldn’t travel, so most people didn’t take a gap year. They couldn’t work because nothing was open. They didn’t get a schooling experience they were satisfied with, so they went interstate for the ‘college experience’. This isn’t applicable to us. So now, we get left with the laborious decision to listen to their inapplicable anecdotes or to simply try our best to use our imaginations.

Worse than the decisions is the step into adulthood itself. The nostalgia has officially hit and the 2010s Spotify playlist is being played on repeat. Adios, Pinterest boards full of aesthetic and unrealistic career propositions. Goodbye, the hypothetical reality I created based on TV show plots I assumed I would live out in my high school days. And most upsetting, farewell home-cooked meals waiting for me every night.

I do not know what to do. I don’t think any of us do. I don’t think any of us are ready. We watch for years as charismatic year 12 students cut up their uniforms for muck-up day, or angelically float down a flight of stairs on presentation evening and just assume we will be just as prepared when it is our turn. Well, I for one am not. So please, tell me because I need to know, what comes next?

(Originally published in The Age newspaper)

Article by Author/s
Alexandra Cowen

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