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I now wish a wiser person had informed me that I had no idea how much academic potential lay within me. My Latin teacher did and it made a difference at school. But I still had no idea whatsoever how much talent lies within us as lifelong learners and as emerging leaders. This is why in hundreds of talks to schools around the country I play my one-string guitar over and over again – “you have no idea how smart you really are”.

Of course, our society and our schools are very good at telling young people, in ways direct and indirect, that not much is expected of them; we have become, as the highly talented journalist Redi Thlabi recently tweeted, “30% pass rate people”.

Dear Grade 12 pupils, Last week the mother of a matriculant asked me: “What do you now wish you knew when you were an 18 year old?” As you start this week to write the most searching examination of your young life, I would like to share some thoughts about this fascinating question. This is what I wish I knew when I came towards the end of high school. The first thing I wish somebody had told me was that my matric results were not predictive of my future life. True, I attained Steenberg High School’s only “first-class pass” at the time though without a single distinction. My results were good but not outstanding. I did not feel qualified for university and when I treated the microscope in my first year botany class like a telescope, I felt the sting of my disadvantage.

I lacked confidence and joy in equal measure and felt intimidated by this new experience called university. At that point I really wish somebody had told me that what mattered was not my past but how I applied m...

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