“Well done, mate, you’re stepping out into the world.”
With those words, a proud father embraced his son after he walked through a guard of honour at St Paul’s High School in Booragul on Thursday, a tribute in which the entire school lines the driveway to celebrate graduating year 12 students.
Emotion was high as the graduating class marched up the hill and out the gate, stopping occasionally to share a hug or two with friends or their favourite teacher, and onwards to a future beyond the classroom.
The students of St Paul’s are not alone.
Thousands of Hunter year 12 students graduate across the region this week – roughly three weeks before the start of written Higher School Certificate examinations.
And, as the first English exam nears, students say a “balanced” study schedule is how they will prepare.
St Paul’s school captain Hugh Woollett, who wants to study chemical engineering at the University of Newcastle, said the feeling of graduating high school after six years was a lot to take in.
“There’s so many different feelings,” he said. “I’ve got happiness, I’ve got sadness, I’ve got excitement – it’s just an interesting time.”
Hugh said he would relax for now but would “hit the books hard from Monday”.
“I’m going to be spending a good portion of the day studying but I’m going to relax as well,” he said. “You need something to take your mind off it.”
Co-captain Lara Duggan, who wants to study law and business, said studying shouldn’t consume every waking hour of the next three weeks.
“I’m not going to be studying 24/7,” she said. “You’ve got to take some time away, see some friends, but also buckle down when you need to.”
Sophie Scanlon was looking outside of Newcastle for further study and was considering a communications degree majoring in journalism and international studies at either Notre Dame, in Sydney, or Charles Sturt University, in Bathurst.
She paid tribute to her teachers who had gone “above and beyond” for their students.
“They have been so supportive,” Sophie said. “School is like a second home, which is why it’s so hard to leave.”
NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes reminded students in the Hunter that the HSC exam was not the be-all and end-all.
“Over coming weeks I encourage all HSC candidates to look after their health, take time out to exercise and keep the right balance in preparation for the exams ahead.” he said.
“While it is an important opportunity to demonstrate skills and knowledge, at the end of the day it’s just an exam.”