IT was always going to be a difficult year for senior students in 2020.

And that was before COVID-19 hit.

Even with traditional Schoolies events cancelled, this week is a time to celebrate for resilient graduates before moving onto life’s next chapter.

The 2020 Queensland Year 12 cohort was the first to switch from OP to ATAR this year and they were already the first to attend Prep and start high school in Year 7.

Ipswich State High School students celebrate the end of a difficult year with principal Simon Riley.
Ipswich State High School students celebrate the end of a difficult year with principal Simon Riley.

They are used to taking on new challenges but the coronavirus pandemic threw a massive spanner in the works for what is already a sometimes overwhelming year.

For Ipswich State High School principal Simon Riley, there were plenty of lessons learnt in 2020 for teachers and parents alike.

His graduation speech was themed around John Lennon’s All You Need Is Love.

“No one thought it was going to be easy and that was without COVID,” he said.

“When we had our COVID lockdown, over 750 families drove their cars around the block, picking up two weeks of paperwork because they didn’t have any IT at home.

“Over 500 packs were delivered three times by the Care Army.

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“The parents drove around the block two weeks after that to pick up and drop off work.

“It was really positive in the sense that we felt we were getting value for all the hard work we were doing. Families took responsibility.

“We had kids coming into school at that time. They were defined as vulnerable or were kids of essential workers. They just kept coming.”

Mr Riley believed parents gained a better appreciation of the work teachers do each day.

The school had 1970 students enrolled this year, with 250 seniors.

“Teachers can take pride in that too, they were learning too,” he said.

“It was a lesson in not doing what you’ve always done.

“It was a lesson in changing it up. If you do that, you’re likely to build resilience and embrace difference.”

There wasn’t time to relax for every graduate at the Brassall school; valedictorian and vice-captain Heston Tepa started his electrician apprenticeship on the Monday after graduating on the Friday.

“A lot went straight into apprenticeships so they didn’t even think about (Schoolies),” Mr Riley said.

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“That’s a huge thing to do.”

Graduate Alisha Tofilau, 18, said it had been a very difficult year with the whole of the second term spent learning from home.

“We did online schooling and then transitioned back into school but didn’t know if we were going to stay there,” she said.

Ms Tofilau said staying in constant contact with friends, even if they couldn’t be together physically, was crucial.

“We always just called, messaged and did our online learning together,” she said.

Her and a group of friends filmed themselves dancing on their final day before exams and uploaded it to TikTok.

It has more than five million views and more than one million likes on the popular social media app.

“That was our walk through so it was the last time we’d see the whole school,” she said.

“We just came together.”

Read more stories by Lachlan McIvor here.