A letter of our year 12 school leavers, ahead of schoolies week

Schoolies week kicks off on the Gold Coast this weekend.
Schoolies week kicks off on the Gold Coast this weekend. Photo: Mike Clayton

Dr Seuss, in Oh, The Places You'll Go! might have had you in mind.

Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!

After years of study, where the wins often looked small and the disappointments writ large, it's over. 

A police record can follow schoolies for life.
A police record can follow schoolies for life. Photo: Bradley Kanaris

The alarm has sounded on those hours hunched over your bedroom desk studying subjects you tolerated. 

The scuffed shoes you were forced to clean at the beginning of each term can remain at the back of the cupboard now, hidden by the uniform that no longer tells people part of your story.

From here, you write your own tale.

Will you run your own company, or the New York marathon?

A media empire or a not-for-profit organisation?

Will you get married? Will it be to the right person? Will you live in Brisbane or Bermuda?


Have seven children. Or none?

Whatever you believe now, the script of your life story is likely to vary widely from what you think as you head off to schoolies week on Saturday.

And it doesn't matter.

Over 20 years, I've interviewed hundreds of top businessman, politicians, scientists, fashion designers, innovators, and world-changers.

And sitting here, I can't think of one who topped the class. Few of our top leaders wore a prefect's badge at school, either.

I've penned three biographies. Professor Ian Frazer who, with a colleague, developed the science behind the cervical cancer vaccine struggled to decide, at 17, what strand of science he would pursue at university.

Joe Hockey, now our Ambassador in Washington, turned down an offer to Duntroon at your age, and then tolerated a law degree before he fell into a passion for politics.

Australia's richest female CEO Maxine Horne, who runs the Vita Group, grew up wishing her family could afford the socks others in her class wore to school.

The point is this. What you've done up until now is important, but that's just got you to the starting blocks. It's what you do next that counts.

Being kind. Being world-aware. Knowing there's always someone, in every day, you can touch in some way.

Understanding our democratic process. Learning leadership skills. Thinking before you speak. Being articulate. Knowing a team is always more powerful than any individuals.

Looking after yourself. Knowing when to say "no". And when to say "thank you".

Such simple skills, really, but they are the qualities that will lift you higher, along a journey that will, at some point, have its share of pot holes.

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.

Start this weekend. I loved every moment of schoolies week, but I didn't have to make any of the decisions you will have to make.

Don't use your phone as a weapon against anyone, or yourself. When the temptation grows intolerable, hand your phone to a friend.

The Gold Coast is brash and beautiful. It's also the state's synthetic drug capital. If you are even a tiny bit tempted, imagine the phone call your mum or dad might receive, because of a decision you made.

One punch not only can kill, it does kill. Walk away. Count to 10, and walk away. Make sure your friends do too.

A conviction during schoolies week could follow you for life. And that's not any way to start the first chapter of your own biography.

Have fun. You deserve this.