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Opinion

Waiting by the letterbox

Opinion

There’s something very fragile about relying on a mailed letter to wind its way to your house. As Year 12s log-in to discover their results today, Michelle Prak recalls a different era.

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It’s a sign of my age, I’m sure, that every December when Year 12 students are yet to receive their final grades, I’ve begun thinking about the near-miss with my own results letter. (Yes, it’s all about me).

At the risk of being thoroughly #okboomered, let me share the story…

It was the late ’80s and to tell the truth, I was more invested in my blond boyfriend and part-time supermarket job to fixate too much on when my Year 12 results might arrive.

When the much-anticipated letter was delivered, it somehow fell from the mailbox and settled into the flowerbed of our front garden. I can’t recall which of my family members found it there, but I remember thinking how extraordinary it was that so many bills and mundane cards had made it to the letterbox over the years, yet this vital mail almost blew down the street and far away from me.

My grades weren’t outstanding but contained no surprises. Full marks for English, barely scraping through in Economics.

Later, I travelled by bus from Whyalla to Adelaide to sit an admissions test for entry into the then SA College of Advanced Education (now UniSA), to study journalism. At the height of a sizzling summer, I wore my best black polo shirt, combined with black cotton shorts with an adorable kitten pattern splattered over them. My eldest stepbrother sewed those shorts for me, from his own design. I believe I had a perm. I believe my stepbrother did also.

In a white room of the leafy Magill campus, journalism applicants sat in rows. We were given an English test and general knowledge quiz before being ushered – one by one – into a room to interview one of our lecturers and return to the room to quickly write an article based on that interview. With pen and paper. It was an exhilarating experience.

This time, it wasn’t a letter that carried my important news. It was a phone call. To a landline.

I was hard at work, in the previously mentioned supermarket job, slicing ham or chicken in the deli section where I worked for three years, when a call came over the speakers to summon me to the office. (The same office where the pay clerk slid back a little wooden window to pass me my wages envelope: a tiny, yellow packet containing notes and coins, which I religiously divided between saving for study, and bottles of Jim Beam).

Wearing the restrictive light blue dress that was the Coles uniform at the time, I scurried to the front office and was handed the phone receiver. On the other end of the line was Ian Richards (now Professor Richards). He had good news: I’d been accepted into the journalism course. I thanked him quietly, hung up the phone and went back to slicing ham.

Today, my youngest son will be able to log onto a website – at whatever hour of day or night suits him – and read his results on-screen. I don’t begrudge him that at all. He’ll still have the thrill of discovering How did I go? He’ll still need to wait and wonder about uni acceptances. And meanwhile, he has his own part-time job and his own sizzling summer to get back to.

Michelle Prak is an Adelaide PR consultant and writer.

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