As the glitter of the new year fades away, our youth face the reality that it’s time to pack up the sum of their lives and leave home.
Time becomes short and plans are made with friends one last time before life paths diverge, sometimes for good.
Study notes are considered and thrown away or kept, treasured photos carefully stowed, drawers emptied and packed into boxes. A marker, roll of tape and scissors are never far away.
In country towns such as Gunnedah, February signals a mass exodus of youth as they leave the Higher School Certificate behind and pursue their hopes and dreams in distant and neighbouring towns.
It is a rite of passage, leaving behind the comforts of a familiar home and facing all that is new and unknown.
For many teens it means buying their first fry pan, their first car and learning to live with strangers on campus or in share houses. For some it means financial strain.
These new students wash over universities and tertiary institutions in waves, clutching smart devices and class schedules.
They face new challenges as they try to juggle washing with assessments, new friends with old, and find their place in the auditoriums and classrooms of their chosen institution.
When I left home for university in 2006, it was with a heavy heart. My mum found a room for me in an elderly woman’s house who very firmly told me that she was not a “mother hen” and I would be expected to look after myself. It was hardly the expression of warmth I so desperately sought.
It was a difficult, lonely time as I was far from home with no car, unaccustomed to cooking or grocery shopping, paying bills or living away from my family.
Suddenly, I had to manage finances, an entirely new schedule and new set of expectations, all the while trying to make new friends and keep up with classes.
I regularly got lost in the university grounds, confused over assessments and anxious about meeting new people as I tried to cobble together a new life for myself.
In time, I found a place for myself and all these years later looking back, I am grateful for that rite of passage.
It changed me and shaped me into a young adult and I made many wonderful friends and memories. To this day, I think of my time at university as “the golden years”.
To all those leaving home this year, I promise it will change you, stretch you and test you, but it just might be the making of you.