My daughter finished school last week, but it was not the final day she had imagined. COVID-19 made sure of that. Sadly, her final day of school was spent in lockdown.

Traditionally, the last day of school would have been celebrated with a graduation assembly followed by a guard of honour formed by all the younger students, hundreds of them, clapping and cheering as the Year 12s make their final exit. It’s a rite of passage.

But it was not to be this year. We tried to make the day as special as possible. We taped congratulations banners and colourful balloons across the living room. We had flowers delivered and gifted my daughter a graduation bear. We enjoyed takeaway pizza for dinner (her choice) followed by a chocolate cake with strawberries and ice-cream. I’m hoping it lifted her spirits at a time when it’s pretty hard to be a teenager.

Living in Sydney, we are now in our 14th week of lockdown. The last term of school was significantly disrupted. Zoom lessons, home studies and assignments became the norm. In a cramped corner of our rumpus room, my daughter painstakingly painted and assembled her major HSC artwork, an incredible 1m x 1m installation that, sadly, very few will get to admire. Trial exams were delayed, debated, but finally went ahead after much speculation and anxiety.

Teachers have done their best under the circumstances. In the final week of school, they organised a campus drive-through for students to collect goodie bags filled with messages of support, fun photos and a survival pack. They hosted two days of Zoom sessions for reflection, worship, games and fun. It was a ray of sunshine amidst the doom and gloom of the ongoing lockdown.

The school formal would traditionally have been held the evening after graduation. However, it had to be postponed and it’s still unknown whether it will go ahead—yet another blow to this year group.

And now, the final hurdle awaits: the HSC exams. Having chatted with other parents, we agree that the biggest challenge is keeping our kids motivated. The exams have twice been pushed back—now scheduled to begin on November 9. Results will not be released until January 2022. The uncertainty has created plenty of stress and anxiety at an already stressful time.

Psychologist Collett Smart has 6 parenting tips to help children prepare for a HSC exam during a pandemic:

Good friends from school and church have been the key to keeping my daughter in a good space emotionally. Keeping active has also been important. Each Saturday we have been exploring bush tracks around our area. It’s been great for all of us.

While my daughter tends to put a lot of pressure on herself in wanting to achieve a particular result, I assure her that she just needs to focus on doing her best. I’m super proud of her. And if she doesn’t get the result she’s after, there other pathways to get where she wants to go.

So, to the class of 2021, I salute you.

Your education was disrupted in last year’s lockdown and now again these past few months. It’s been isolating, challenging and frustrating for you in so many ways. But your perseverance and resilience will no doubt shine in whatever you choose to do in the future.

How to get through the next few weeks until the HSC

For students: Here’s 7 ways you and your mates can support each other

For parents: Tips for supporting your kids going through the HSC

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