A YEAR like no other has finally concluded for the Wimmera's graduating class of 2020.
The last VCE exams were held on Tuesday, ending a memorable year of lockdowns, remote learning and high stress for year 12 students.
Horsham College student Tate Fennell said it was a euphoric feeling to finish his final exam and end a "really weird year".
"It felt amazing - you should have seen the smile on my face leaving my last exam. It's such a weight off your shoulders," he said.
"To be finished after 13 years of schooling ... it hardly feels real.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet. At the moment, it feels a little bit like you'll still see everyone again next year."
Horsham College's Jorrdan Weir said she had a similar feeling.
"I've been finished for two weeks now, but it still just feels like I'll be going back to school next year," she said.
"It was very relieving to finish. A lot of that stress now is just gone.
"I felt pretty prepared for most of my exams, and I did my best, so we will just wait and see."
Weir said it had been an emotionally taxing year, as the COVID-pandemic altered all of her expectations.
"I think this year is going to be remembered for just being so crazy - nothing was like we had expected," she said.
"Finding out that we were going into lockdown especially was very hard.
"I had a lot of emotional breakdowns, a lot of stress, but once you got into a routine of working from home, it was okay.
"It was challenging, but we got through it."
Weir said one of the biggest downsides of the year was missing out on the usual year 12 rituals, such as the school production, athletics day, and 18th birthday parties.
"It's a real shame - especially from being a year 11, you see what the year 12s get to experience the year before, and you think you'll get the same," she said.
"But it's been a completely different experience.
"That's been really hard, but we've come through it together. I think our year has bonded a bit and come closer together, despite the situation."
Fennell said he tried to take positives out of a unique situation.
He said he learned to appreciate the freedom of working from home.
"It was almost a positive, to a certain extent," he said.
"It was nice to have that bit of extra freedom. For example, I could get a coffee in the morning and have that while I work. Just little things like that.
"I tried to take the positives out of it - it was hard not seeing mates much, and not having footy as a release, but we got through it.
"I think we'll be known as 'The class that survived' - the fact that we all got through it, despite everything 2020 threw at us, it's something to be proud of."
Weir said it may have also uniquely prepared this year's graduating class for the next step in their journey.
Although not yet certain, Weir said she was looking at attending university in Geelong next year.
"We've always been told, when you go to university it's a lot more independent learning, and a lot less relying on your teachers," she said.
"So in a way, it sets you up for that next step."
Fennell, like many of his classmates, wanted to take a gap year overseas. That plan too, however, has been cancelled by the pandemic.
Instead, Fennell said he was planning on studying sports science at Swinburne University in Melbourne.
"I had my mind made up that I was going overseas, so in a way, it has forced me to do uni for at least a year," he said.
"I'm looking forward to just getting in there - hopefully next year it's all back to normal."
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