A Perspective From Those Who Recently Finished it

By: Ilan Preskovsky

For those in the midst of their final year of high school – and for those about to enter it – matric really does feel like the be-all-and-end-all of life. Well, for most people. Frankly, I only really noticed it when my second prelim results were, for most subjects, much too close for comfort. For most matric students though, they are confronted with exams (and portfolio work, if that’s still a thing) that, they are told, will determine not just whether they can get into university – or at least out of high school – but the entire direction of the rest of their lives. Which, of course, requires having at least some sort of clue about what they actually want that direction to look like.

On top of the looming Matric Exams and everything they imply (those words are capitalised for a reason), they also are expected to have – and undoubtedly should have – some sort of social life, to participate in extra mural activities, and to get their driver’s license if and when they’re the right age. And for Jewish students in religious schools, to still dedicate hours each day to Torah study.

It’s a lot. Arguably it’s too much. But a weird thing starts to happen almost the second after you get your results: matric suddenly starts to feel like a much smaller deal than you could ever possibly have imagined while actually doing it. This feeling only grows stronger as you progress to any one or all of: your gap year, university, post-graduate studies, and, most especially, your first job. Most astonishingly, you will probably start to feel nostalgic about matric – about friendships that have never been easier to maintain, about how much you prefer your teachers to your boss, about the boundless possibilities of a life entirely unwritten that lay before you. I say this as someone who finished school way back in the waning days of the last century, but it’s a sentiment that is clearly shared by the half-dozen young adults I spoke to for whom matric is a much more recent memory.

Here are some of their thoughts: some shorter, some longer, but all no doubt worth hearing for those about to enter their final year of high school.

Benjamin Atie

Benjamin matriculated from King David Linksfield in 2018. He just completed an undergraduate in Statistics and Actuarial Science and is about to start honours in Actuarial Science at the University of the Witwatersrand.

I think the key thing when I think back is the insane academic pressure that comes with it. Obviously, [what] with your results affecting your entrance into university and basically affecting the progress of your career and how quickly you can move on from the academic space. And the irony is that having been at university, you realise that the exams at the time of matric may feel like the end of the world, [but] the work is relatively easy and certainly smaller in size than the workload of the university schedule, and the insane academic pressure is, looking back on it, quite difficult for most matrics to handle.

That being said, I don’t want to downplay matric as this terrible, horrific year. There are many wonderful things about matric. When I look back at my matric year, I’m eternally grateful for my classmates and the friends I made and the experiences we went through together. And being involved with school sports: being at rugby matches, going to watch plays. One of the beautiful things about matric and school in general is that you are able to really embrace everything the school has to offer in such an easy manner. Just stay an hour after school and there’s a rugby game going on. Come an hour early and you can make early morning tefilla or go for an extra lesson.

I think there was also a lot of [other] benefits to that matric year. For starters, that matric pressure teaches you a lot of valuable and important skills. Time management, how to stay calm under pressure. Just dealing with the general pressures of your life. Getting your license. Turning 18. Voting. Dealing with whatever is going on at the time. Those skills are valuable to you regardless of what your matric results are – hopefully your results are good, but these are skills that you will need in university and, I assume, the rest of your life.

And as you go through matric, you begin to realise that there are people who are naturally stronger academically or work harder, but life isn’t linear. Up to the point of matric things feel very linear but once you get out of that environment and once you have a bit of perspective you start to realise that success isn’t linear. Some people are very successful despite their academic record. Some go onto change the world because they’re passionate about an issue, because they love sports, or they’re very good at making connections.

If I was to give advice to future matrics, all those skills you learn and all those opportunities you have while in matric are worth embracing and worth taking advantage of because once you leave school it becomes much much harder to socialise, to play sports so freely or attend cultural events, or to stay in touch with what’s going on in the community. It’s an important year not just from an academic standpoint, but from a life standpoint.

Rebecca Matisonn

Rebecca graduated from King David Victory Park in 2018 and just completed her undergraduate degree in industrial psychology.

I matriculated from King David victory in 2018. I took a gap year after school and did the Bnei Akiva programme, Limmud, and I just finished my undergraduate degree in industrial psychology. I’ve also completed my speech and drama teaching qualification. Looking back on my matric year, I really feel like my school prepared me for the academic side of varsity. Looking back now though, when I was making decisions about whether to take part in extra murals, I wish I did more. I really think that matric is so focused on academics and, in hindsight, I see that it’s important that it’s not worth missing out on the opportunity to take part in school life because you’re so focused on academics.

Hanna Pitum

Hanna matriculated from the National School of the Arts in 2019 and is currently working for a company doing office administration in the morning and au-pairing in the afternoons.

In terms of the workload, matric was a very hectic year for me as I went to an art school. There was a lot of pressure on both the art subject (I did dance, but there is also drama, art, and music) as well as your academics. Students at the NSA must have a strict balance between arts and academics and there is a high expectation for learners to perform well in both aspects.

Juggling rehearsals and ballet classes with assignments and exams was not for the faint of heart, but in many ways, it made me strong and taught me a lot of management skills and prioritising.

I was very lucky to have a great outlook on school as I had wonderful friends and teachers that were very supportive. My matric year was definitely a highlight of my school career. Looking back, the excitement to finish school was there the whole year. Matric students also tend to get some extra privileges, for example a matric-only line at the tuck shop, good seating for assembly, and of course everyone looks forward to the matric dance at the end of the year.

Currently, in my day-to-day life, I would say that matric is a valuable year and I do use information that I learnt/revised often. As an Au-pair, I always get asked somewhat complicated questions by the kids but I feel confident that I have the ability to answer any question thrown my way and if I don’t know the answer, I have the capacity to give an educated guess.

School is often difficult for people in terms of pressure, workload, and friendships. Learners should know that there is no shame in asking for help and guidance from your teachers or friends. Often it is your fellow classmates who can assist you in understanding some information. In my opinion, if you can get all your work and studying done, find a passion that will motivate you and have one or two really good friends you can rely on, that will make your matric year much more manageable.

Yakov Drutman:

Yakov matriculated from Torah Academy Boys High School in 2018. After matric he took a gap year and is currently going into his fourth year of studying physiotherapy at the University of Witwatersrand.

Being in the “real world” for a few years, I can wholeheartedly say that matric helped shape me into who I am today. Besides for the learning and discipline I came out with, the key element was the life lessons that were engraved into to me by my incredible teachers and principal.

Before I went into university, I was worried that all the other students would be mountains ahead of me on an academic front, as I didn’t go to prominent large high school ( I finished with a class of eight boys). However, I quickly learned that was simply not true. I found it didn’t make a difference at all, and that it truly was a “fair” game for everyone. If you want to do well, you will do well, as long as you put in the effort.

Another point I would like to bring out is that I find matric students often think that matric is the sole factor that determines their future, and if they do not do well and do not get into the degree they wanted, then it’s all over. I, myself, had the same feelings. However, I urge the matric students of this year to throw that thought right out the window. I have seen, first-hand, students who were exactly in those positions, but they were determined and ended up achieving their dream. Not only did they end up fulfilling their dream, but they actually ended up being the top of their class. There is always a back door, all it takes is courage, determination, and to never give up.

Lastly, we are only 18 when we finish matric. You do not have to have your whole future figured out the time you matriculate. You are young and in today’s times we are living much longer than previous generations. You have time to figure out what you want to do, but don’t settle till you find your passion, you will know when you find it. It might seem like a maze to get there and that you can’t make sense of where you’re going, but there’s a quote from Steve Jobs that has resonated in my journey: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” Personally I have started to see my dots beginning to connect…

Kayla Diamond

Kayla matriculated from King David Linksfield in 2019 and is about to start her third year of psychology at the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACP).

I really loved my matric year. I made sure to get involved a lot. I was a student leader so I really did try to utilise my time properly. But obviously I felt really overwhelmed and stressed and panicked and thought that matric was the be-all-and-end-all of things. I actually have a sister who matriculated now, so in a sense I did matric again by watching her go through it. And I saw that you’re in this bubble and this mindset that if you don’t get 100 percent on whatever or even socially or everything that has to do with matric and that if you don’t succeed at that, you won’t succeed at life. So I told her time and time again that the second you leave school is when your life really starts. Since I left matric, I’ve changed my friend group completely, I’ve gained so much knowledge and so many more values and clarity as well.

Some final thoughts

If there’s one thing that’s very clear from talking to all these matriculants, it’s that a little perspective changes everything and that for all of its insane pressures, it’s a year that’s worth savouring. That is, as long as you’re able to find the proper balance between those final results and all the many things that are happening in your life – both in school and out – during that year.

As another young adult, who wishes to remain anonymous, summed it up for me:

When I finished matric, I was not entirely sure what the point of all the pressure and stress was, and I could not see any of matric’s positive aspects because if you want to study at Wits or overseas you need NBTs [National Benchmark Tests] or SATs [Scholastic Assessment Tests] anyway. Now that I have been out of school for a bit and am now in university, I see how the stress and pressure of matric actually taught me a lot. Besides the actual subjects, it gave me the ability to sit and study for hours without burning out too quickly. This has given me a work ethic and also taught me what my learning style is, which has helped me in university. And, lastly, it has taught me how to think and study under pressure. All of this I could not see or appreciate [just] as I had finished [matric].

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