Finding worth beyond grades

NOT only is education a significant part of a student’s life, but it is also a topmost priority in many countries.

While the discourse in Malaysia has increasingly centred on producing well-rounded students, much attention has always been on students’ academic performance.

The subject arises every time the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination results are announced.

It also comes up when international assessment reports, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss), are released.

Amid such attention, two participants of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team share their personal struggles in meeting academic expectations and shed light on the lessons they learnt along the way. For updates on the BRATs programme, visit

.The promise I made to myself

I HATED being weak; I always had.

The very notion of vulnerability seemed like a threat to the image of strength and resilience that I had meticulously crafted over the years.

As a high-achiever, weakness was the antithesis of my identity.

I was always known as a happy-go-lucky person, shining in the eyes of many. I prided myself on pushing through challenges, exceeding expectations, and maintaining an outward facade of invincibility.

Admitting vulnerability felt like an admission of defeat, an acknowledgment that perhaps beneath the layers of success, I was not as strong as I appeared.

The signs were subtle at first – persistent fatigue, a growing sense of disillusionment, and a nagging feeling that I could no longer keep up with the demanding pace I had set for myself.

As deadlines loomed and responsibilities piled up, the flame of my enthusiasm dwindled until it was replaced by a pervasive sense of emptiness, accompanied by never-ending voices in my head that kept me from sleeping or finding peace.

It didn’t end there. My body began showing physical signs of disagreement – killer migraines, constant vomiting and my brain completely unable to function.

I passed them off as just being sick and tired but little did I know that burnout had taken root, and I found myself grappling with the realisation that I could no longer push through the fatigue.

Unable to ignore the warning signs, I made the difficult decision to take a hiatus from school.

It was a choice fraught with uncertainty, given the stigma surrounding taking a break from academic pursuits, especially considering it was during our final examinations.

However, as my brain and body refused to function beyond that point, there was no choice – I didn’t want to fail all my papers either.

During this hiatus, I sought professional help, leading to a diagnosis that would shape the trajectory of my recovery.

It was a diagnosis that underscored the importance of prioritising mental health and dismantling the notion that pushing oneself to the brink is a sustainable path to success.

Taking my antidepressants daily has become a ritual that extends beyond the mere act of medication.

It serves as a tangible acknowledgment of my own humanity, a reminder that, like anyone else, I am susceptible to the ebb and flow of emotions.

In those small capsules lies not just a pharmacological remedy but a daily commitment to my mental well-being.

It’s a pause – a moment of self-reflection where I recognise the validity of my struggles and the proactive steps I am taking to navigate them.

The routine of taking the pills has transformed into a symbol of self-care, a conscious effort to prioritise my mental health and embrace the vulnerabilities that make me undeniably human.

So, was pushing myself so hard worth it? Maybe not in the straightforward sense, as navigating the twists and turns of mental health can be bewildering.

Yet, amid the challenges, I’ve unearthed something truly valuable.

This journey, with its ups and downs, has taught me a lesson that goes beyond the struggles.

It’s about understanding the importance of resilience, finding strength in vulnerability, and recognising that one’s worth isn’t just in overcoming obstacles but in the insights gained along the way.

In the realm of mental health, it’s a continuous journey – one that, despite its difficulties, imparts wisdom and shapes a deeper understanding of oneself.

The act of admitting my story on such a big platform is something I never believed I would do.

However, it serves as an important reminder not just for me but for everyone else that we are all human.

All I know is that I have promised to be kinder to myself because I am not invincible. – By ADEENA SALIMEE, 17, Melaka

Redefining success

STRIVING to live up to expectations is certainly not an easy task.

I used to constantly grapple with the immense challenge of meeting the expectations imposed by myself and others.

Looking back, I am grateful for the invaluable lessons that my journey has brought me.

Growing up in a traditional Chinese family, I was often surrounded by the expectations of achieving excellence and being at the top of my game.

Being in this environment made me establish a fixed mindset that it was my priority as a student to excel in examinations.

The pressure to do so soon became a focal point of my academic journey. I internalised the idea that securing the top position was not only commendable, but also necessary for gaining recognition from others.

To meet such expectations, I often studied for long hours, burning the midnight oil while sacrificing my physical and mental health.

Even so, reality can be harsh. Unlike many other students, I was not a quick learner. The situation intensified when I embarked on my secondary education.

Surrounded by bright-minded peers who seemed to effortlessly grasp complex concepts such as algebra, geometry and trigonometry, I often struggled to comprehend the intricacies of subjects demanding higher-order thinking skills, particularly in mathematics and science.

In order to keep up with others, I ended up reluctantly attending various tuition classes. The cost exerted financial pressure on my parents, especially with the rising cost of living.

Even though I assured my parents that I would make the most of the resources given to me, Lady Luck did not smile on my efforts. As hard as I tried, my academic results showed little to no improvement.

Looking at my peers’ results, I sensed the weight of expectations on my shoulders.

For several days, I questioned whether I was trying my best to fulfil my responsibilities as a “good daughter” and make my parents proud.

I cried a lot and asked myself, “Am I pushing myself hard enough? Why can’t I do equally well like my peers?”

It was during this time that I realised I needed to confront the reality of the challenges I faced.

I decided to engage in a heart-to-heart talk with my parents, as they are the ones who know me best.

I expressed the depth of my struggles to them, and, to be frank, I was surprised that they recognised the value of my effort beyond the immediate measures of success.

They emphasised that success is not solely dependent on academic achievement, but rather on a commitment to aim for continuous improvement.

This was when I began to understand that true success extends beyond academic accomplishments and that my worth as an individual is not solely determined by my ability to secure the top position.

To explore my potential, I started delving into realms beyond the academic sphere.

After discussing with my parents, I decided to explore programming during my free time.

As a novice, the initial stages were mentally demanding, given that the rules and syntax required meticulous attention. It became customary for me to spend two hours debugging the code.

However, over time and through the experience gained, I found myself developing a knack for the world of programming.

Creating interactive video games and building user-friendly interface websites soon became my hobby.

Fast forward to the present, here I stand – a testament to the profound journey of overcoming self-doubt.

Through the twists and turns of my personal exploration, I have come to appreciate that every person has their own unique worth.

Beyond expectations, I have learnt to recognise the diverse strengths, passions and experiences that mould each individual into a better self. – By KOH YU XUAN, 15, Selangor

With the theme of the article in mind, carry out the following English language activities.

1 How are you taking care of your mental health while dealing with academic challenges?

Discuss it with your friends.

2 Do you resonate with Adeena’s and Yu Xuan’s experiences?

Write a letter to either of them, offering support and encouragement.

Then, exchange letters with your friend and respond to each other’s letters in the persona of the addressee.

The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme promotes the use of English language in primary and secondary schools nationwide. For Star-NiE enquiries, email

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