I remember the exact moment I received my HSC results, four years ago today.
My eyes had snapped open very early. I had leapt out of bed and paced around the house. And when, at 30 seconds past 6 am, those numbers popped up on that same screen with which my brain had formed an intimate connection those past 12 months, my heart fell three feet and all I wanted was to crawl inside myself and sleep for days.
Looking back, the mark was amazing. It was a tribute to the late nights and early starts, the declined invitations to themed parties and the hard slog of algebra and trig for which my brain had not been moulded.
But at the time, all I could see in those little black numbers was the degree I would not be studying, my five-year plan not even falling apart but simply, unequivocally vanishing.
However, far more deeply etched into the woman I am today, are experiences I had in my final year of school that had nothing to do with my academic achievements.
Year 12 is a unique adventure. At the same time you're asked to choose the direction of your future and sit intense exams, you're also attending 18th birthdays and school formals, obtaining P-plates and grappling with love and sex and everything in between...
It's important not to let the lessons learned in this extraordinary year be defined only by a number, your experiences distilled into a mere ranking.
The way you've treated those who've shared this journey with you will say far more about your future than a mark ever could. They are the ones who will be holding your hand when you're flunking your first subject at uni, vomiting your way through Europe or having your heart shattered for the first time. They are the people who will be there at your birthday when there's something cooler happening on Facebook, or introducing you to that magic person who will breathe light and love back into your heart.
The relationships you've had with your teachers will prepare you more for the workplace than a textbook ever could. Learning how to listen and how to humbly take on feedback is a skill which you should cherish. Some may have been kind and others harsh, but they were invested in your success in a way you're yet to understand.
You might have learned lessons about love, loss and lipstick, scaling grades and sculling goon, which make you a far more well-rounded person than tests and textbooks ever could.
If you've done well, you deserve congratulations, and you'll get it. You'll get it from teachers and friends, parents and employers. You'll get it from people you've known forever and people you haven't yet met.
And if you're disappointed with your results, that's okay too. For some people, today feels like the apocalypse -- dreams snatched away with one click of a mouse -- and that's a perfectly reasonable emotion. It means you truly care and, in that, there's a powerful lesson. It is only once we shed our fear of failure that we can jump, feet first, eyes closed, arms flailing, into the new and sometimes scary adventure we call life.
Because after you've celebrated your success, or cried out the disappointment, the storm will settle and you'll head off on a journey where that number only matters for the person it has made you.
And, unlike that number, you're never too late to change.