I believe in education. I want to get that out there from the off, because I do: education changes lives. Yet, through much of my secondary school life, education framed me: I was a percentage, a letter, a grade on a piece of paper. I built my worth, happiness, success and dreams around the sharp black edges of a well-crafted letter.
Statistics and league tables, entry requirements and UCAS points: both schools and students depend upon results more than I think either would choose. This is the chosen measure of success, because it's a system that, in many ways, works. Based largely on academic achievement - and often neglecting the sacrifices and consequences, home commitments and extra-curricular ones, the person and people behind the grade and the figures - we place our lives in the superior knowledge of a white piece of paper.
Having just graduated (a process that seems much more humane in comparison to my school-days), it scares me how much importance lies in GCSE/A Level results. It scares me the extent in which ability is judged in one day, in one exam, in one hour. It scares me how, whilst I had all the grades and more, my value as a real-life person was smothered by them. At no point, in all my years of collecting that sealed envelope and scrutinizing the UCAS tariffs, percentages and letters did I see the real me. Those grades were simply the end-product of a long slog and the bar in which my next set would be measured against. I laughed, and I cried, and never have I been more nervous, or more ecstatic. Never have I been less human and more machine.
When I look back over results days, the years are one another's polar-opposites: GCSE (2011) was The Golden Year, AS (2012) was The Horrendous Year of Flip Flops and Floors, A Levels (2013) was The Exeter-Bound Year. The middle one was traumatic and horrendous, safely contained between the other two. Results Day is the equivalent of being thrown in the ocean, without a raft and told you know how to swim...but there's a shark coming and the worst storm you'll ever witness and never in your life have you wanted a life jacket more. I'm not going to tell you "you know how to swim", and I'm afraid I don't have the miraculous raft, but I'm swimming beside you and telling you my story. I'm telling you that it isn't about swimming, sometimes it's about believing in yourself, all you've done, and all you're yet to be. I'm swimming beside you, because I know what it's like, to be told you know how to swim, when you're 100% convinced otherwise, and to be certain the shark's getting closer, because I know what it's like to be holding that envelope and be reduced to a grade.
But here's the thing: through the tears and joy, the exhaustion and relief, the pride and the disbelief, I survived. I cried when tears were called for. And I smiled when the camera flashed. Results days are funny old things - cruel and impossible to truly sum up in words - but they are just that, odd days. They come and they go, and whatever the "result", you get through it...even if in that minute, or hour, or the days waiting for remark results (yep, been there too...and that's a certain kind of torture...the shark circles and can't seem to decide whether to make you dinner or look for something juicier), the world spins too fast and you fear you might just slip off the edge, you hold on. Even when your grip slips and your hands ache and the storm closes in and suddenly all your well-crafted plans are in turmoil, you do hold on. You hold on because you've worked bloody hard. You hold on because you hold your dreams close. And you hold on because, however much a piece of paper may have you crying on your teacher's flip flops/paralysed with a fear you never knew existed, you are 100% more than the sharp edges of a letter.
No letter can measure laughter.
No grade can measure circumstance.
No percentage can measure memories.
So, be kind to yourself. A letter is just that: sharp lines and curves figured in black ink and printed by machine. A letter can only dictate as much as you let it. That letter is not a reflection of your worth, does not deserve to compromise your happiness, and is not an all-encompassing measure of success. You're young and there's a big wide world out there: that letter may well test your dreams, and that's okay...here's another thing I learned: dreams are pretty special, surprisingly versatile, and actually quite flexible. A letter is just a letter. And you, I promise, are so much more than a letter.
From someone who's been there, the highs and the lows: It Will Be Okay.