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Top tips from College Dux

Matthew McDonald, Catherine McAuley College Dux 2018, gave an inspiring and heartfelt address to students at the Laureate Assembly on Tuesday 19 February.

Being called dux is a little iffy. By definition it means ‘top pupil of a school or class’. Okay, wow. Top pupil? The best student? How do you even begin to measure that?  How can netballers be compared against debaters? Singers against the chess champions? Or how can someone who chooses to do a trade in VCAL be compared against a VCE student?

I was extremely gratified to accept the award, but I’ll make it clear that the traditional VCE path is not the only option. And, whilst dux is a huge honour, this title is not and should not be your end goal when completing school.

In fact, my first tip would simply be to enjoy whatever you are learning, without placing pressure on yourself to achieve a lofty score. This is the advice I wish I had. From Year 7, I sunk myself into the school environment and committed myself to being perfect in everything I did. I worried all too much about awards like these; I realise now that I wasn’t working for my own benefit but for the praise from others. I was at the point where if I wasn’t the best, I wasn’t happy. This was not healthy.

I would study flat-out each night after school and would sit at a desk for 6 – 8 hours each Saturday and Sunday. I made the mistake of studying hard, not smart. Studying smart is being efficient with your time and direct with your goals.  Tell yourself, in this next 30 minutes, I will work consistently and without distraction. There is no point in staring at an essay for an entire day. In that case STOP.

I definitely studied too hard during VCE, but I did make some excellent choices as well. In Year 10 I found myself choosing science subjects in an attempt to replicate my older sister’s VCE success. But that was pointless. I knew that I had a passion for acting, so why wasn’t I doing Drama? Here’s a top tip. There are no such thing as ‘SMART’ subjects. Choose what you love, and success will follow.

One choice I made was to study Indonesian until Year 12, a language that I fully intend to continue as well as picking up Mandarin. Unfortunately, languages are dying in Australia as students feel less encouraged to choose them. It is a shame that as a country we are not motivated to learn other languages of the world; there is so much to gain and learn culturally from studying a language. Research shows it can offset dementia by years and wires your brain to understand and solve more complex situations and problems. I have loved learning Indonesian and highly recommend to everyone to keep it up! It may be difficult, but with hard work you will get there! In Europe, approximately 56% of people know a second language – in Australia that figure is only 21%. Come on, let’s not lag behind!

Some of my top tips for ATAR success would include:

  1. English is your priority subject, always. It must be in your top four and will make the biggest contribution to your ATAR. A good English result requires reading the books – I mean it, you cannot analyse something you haven’t read!
  2. You cannot rely on being a ‘typically smart’ student. If you don’t study, you won’t perform well. Because the people who are doing practice exams, getting feedback and consolidating their learning at home will overtake you.
  3. Unfortunately, VCE is a ranking system. Place in the forefront of your mind every SAC and exam that you need to be writing something that the next person isn’t. STAND OUT.

VCE is a challenge, but don’t blow it out of proportion.  A guest speaker from last year’s Laureate said that ‘the harder you work, luckier you get’. Legit, this was my motivation for all of Year 12. It comes down to you, it’s your choice if you want to be slack and waste your time at school, but the simple story is that if you put in the work, you will be rewarded. Approach everything you do with grace and diligence, whether it be your trade, a humanities assignment or Year 9 exam – it all matters and contributes to your later success.

I also highly suggest getting involved in Faith and Justice and putting your hand up to everything. I went on justice camps, did debating, spoke at assemblies, masses – I gave everything a shot and it was the best thing I decision I made. In January this year, I was asked by the Catholic Education Office to speak about my journey through a Catholic school. I reflected that CMC has offered me so much opportunity for growth in faith and spirituality. I love that this school is oriented around the Mercy Values and that social justice is implemented into everything we do. I will truly forever treasure the compassionate world view that has been developed and fostered by CMC.

I must also say a HUGE thank you to the amazing staff at CMC. You have offered so much guidance and advice beyond set curriculums; you have been truly incredible role models to me and other students. Thank you for your additional support after school and excellent feedback on work. Thank you endlessly.

The College Dux of 2017, Jessica McCarthy referenced last year in her Laureate Speech the phenomenal Malala Yousafzai. I will conclude by reminding everyone just how valuable an education is and how many people is disadvantaged countries are willing to be shot in the head for it. Please, make the most of the school environment and your education while you are here. Thank you for your time and good luck this year – don’t overwork yourself like I did, but 100% give it your best shot!

Matthew McDonald, College Dux 2018