Opinion: When I found out my HSC result, I felt like throwing up

Danielle Mahe with her husband and children on the day she graduated with a degree in Midwifery

Photo: Supplied

Danielle Mahe with her husband and children on the day she graduated with a degree in Midwifery

When this year’s Higher School Certificate results are released, the students who top their subjects and score the highest ATARs in the state will be celebrated by their parents, teachers and friends – a just reward for the hard work and dedication they showed this tough year.

I too will applaud their achievements, but my thoughts will turn to the students who receive a low ATAR. It is likely they will feel ashamed and worthless, just like I did when I received my results.

I sat the HSC in 2008, when most of this year’s cohort were in kindergarten. I remember pacing up and down in my bedroom as I awaited the release of my Universities Admission Index (which preceded the ATAR).

My parents had already left for work. They were expecting me to call them with the “great news” that I had achieved a UAI of 90 or above. I certainly wasn’t expecting that; I thought I would get a UAI of at least 55, maybe 60 if I was lucky.

My heart pounded as I logged on to the UAC website that morning to find out my score. I slowly scrolled down the page to where it was recorded. But when I read the words “Your Universities Admission Index (UAI)”, I stopped. I was so afraid to keep reading, thinking that the UAI rank that followed those words would determine my future.

I held my breath and braced for impact. I had received a UAI of 47.45. To ensure there was no confusion, my UAI was also written out as “*FOUR*SEVEN***FOUR*FIVE*”. If I am honest, I thought I was being modest when I had estimated a score of 55, so when I realised I had scored in the 40s, I felt like throwing up.

As I processed these results, the fight or flight response kicked in and I began to panic. “My parents are going to kill me,” I thought. I couldn’t bear to tell them the news over the phone so I waited until they came home. I will never forget the look of disappointment on their faces when I told them my score. My mother said she thought I could have done better. My father didn’t utter a single word.

I was just as embarrassed by my UAI as my parents were. When my UAI letter arrived in the mail, I buried it in a storage container and piled the rest of my school belongings on top, hoping that action would bury the shame I felt that day too.

I didn’t get into university straight away. I enrolled instead into a short course at a college, which provided an alternative pathway for me to go to university. Once at university, I was able to complete a bachelor of midwifery – a degree that today requires double the UAI that I had received.

I had my three children while studying, which my lecturers strongly advised against because they believed it would stop me from finishing my degree. Because I proved them wrong, I wanted to frame my degree as evidence that I could achieve anything. But as I rummaged through my belongings to see if I could find a spare frame, I happened to stumble upon my UAI letter.

Tears rolled down my face as memories of that day I received my HSC results came flooding back. I wish I could have owned my UAI score and celebrated the fact that I had completed 13 years of schooling, instead of feeling sorry for myself. It is my hope that every HSC student this year – regardless of their ATAR – does the same and takes pride in making it to the end of what has been a year filled with many trials and tests. That is an achievement in itself.

Today, my UAI letter sits framed on my desk as a reminder that no test result, person or circumstance can control your life. The only person who can change your life is you.

This article was previously published in The Sydney Morning Herald.