Dear Graduate – You are not defined by your score

Dear VCE Graduate,

“Opportunities don’t happen. You create them.”

– Chris Grosser

The end of the academic year for you has arrived. For other students, the anticipation of completing the year is just that – the conclusion of another round of academic combat to start again after the summer break and yet for you this time signifies having completed your VCE studies and the release of your long awaited ATAR result.

Welcome to life on the other side!


The rainbow of emotions are shining all of the colours in your mind and racing through your body like electricity. You may be celebrating achieving the desired result; or you may be feeling confusion as to where you had fallen over; you may just be relieved to see a result as a conclusion or you may be feeling guttered, thrashed and your brain stomped which may only start to scratch the surface of your emotions.

I graduated from high school in 2002… and yet the emotions of the days aftermath of the release of that number still causes a dull ache in my heart. I didn’t achieve my desired number… and yet I stand before you as a qualified and practicing lawyer and writer.

I made the choice not to be defined by my number.

The time after my score was released was a┬áblur of emotion and reaction, so here are some of the things I wish I knew then…


1. The score does not define you

As a VCE graduate, you have completed seven years of primary education and six years of secondary education. Your parents will fondly (and no doubt emotionally) recall the first day of grade prep. You started school without knowing the alphabet or what 2 + 2 equalled, realistically you couldn’t really coordinate yourself enough to throw a ball aiming where you needed to or how to tie your shoe lace!

You were young, bright eyed and maybe a little scared being away from your parents and thrown into a new, excited and structured life… but importantly you were a blank canvass. Now take a moment to appreciate all of the information you now know.

That number does not reflect how far you have come and what kind of member of our global community you will be. Life experience isn’t measured by any high school score.


2. No one will ask you for your number

After the fog had cleared, I enrolled into a ‘training / TAFE’ course to try something. I dreaded repeating my score to others. I dreaded having to see the look of judgement and disappointment on another’s face and try to justify that I swear I am intelligent especially when it felt my score didn’t reflect it. I felt I would have to justify that I did work hard during VCE, maybe the scores were brought down because of the bell curve average adjustments.

After filing in those initial forms stating what my score was (and aside from the competitive sibling banter with my older brother that he did better than me) not much has ever been said about the score.

I haven’t had to declare my score on any travel documents as I come and go from holidays; my employers haven’t asked for it; it wasn’t included in my admission to becoming a lawyer and I didn’t have to include it in my marriage documents or declare it when I had a baby. Lots of life experiences have happened and not once has it revolved around that score.


3. You have options

“If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.”
— Steve Jobs

Admittedly when I left VCE, I had lost my career compass.

I never set out to be a lawyer and I had cycled through so many different career options from being a performer in a circus, a nurse, an actor.. the list was endless. By the years end, my VTAC guide was beyond well worn out – tabbed and highlighted. I was clueless before finally settling on Journalism. I booked in to set the entrance exam and by gosh my heart fell out of my chest as I realised this was not for me. Leaving the exam early and incomplete I felt like I was back to square one.

Over those early years I tried… I was flexible in my approach and open to the possibilities of my career revealing itself. My faith was rewarded with a tumbling pathway. Life and my experiences have taught me that there is nothing impossible so long as your determination is backed up by hard work and flexibility. There are options… there are always options! It’s most important to take the time to step back to evaluate particularly when you feel like you are backed into a corner.


4. Life and success will always be determined by your attitude

We live in a society that thrives on complaints. We complain about the weather; having to go to work; having to study; having to pay taxes; having to do a whole range of expected things to be part of the community – I am included in most of these complaints but we need to acknowledge that circumstances play out with the tainted glasses you are wearing.

You can accomplish anything you desire! You set your goals and dreams and you have to navigate through any road block to get there. You are the only thing common denominator that you have control of that makes the world of difference… time to start wearing your ‘can do attitude!’.


5. There is more than one pathway to success

It almost sounds cliche to point out but people such as Bill Gates, Lin Fox and Sir Richard Branson, didn’t complete their secondary studies, yet they are some of the most successful people in business today. Equally there are huge numbers of people who are wildly successful that did not obtain their desired score… but what all successful people have in common is a great work ethic and the right attitude.
There are ways to get to where you need to go, it may just take doing your homework to find out other ways to achieve it. There are apprenticeships, TAFE courses, on the job training, volunteer work, transferring into a course – the options are limitless! When we are young we worry about something taking a long time to get there, however I don’t believe that changes as adults but one thing that is for certain is that the time runs regardless. It may have taken me longer to become a lawyer but I am here now and it was definitely worth the time and the patience to follow the path through.

Congratulations to you for graduating!

And for those embarking on the journey of VCE, be kind to yourself.
Keep the process in perspective – learn for life and not for an exam… and work on strategies to keep your stress levels in check. Remember that your ATAR will not define you, it’s how you move forward, planning for the future and dreaming big that is important… and there are options… there are always options…


“The difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do.”
— Unknown


~ F.P