In what is typically considered the most exciting year of school life, the Year 12 class of 2020 experienced one of the largest transformations in the history of education delivery, all while fearing they would miss out on graduations, formals and other events that enrich and - for many - complete the school experience.
Year 12 can be a challenging and stressful time under the best of circumstances, and the pandemic provided the perfect excuse for students to say it was all too hard.
But they didn't. Instead, they dug deep, supported each other, embraced opportunities to achieve, and their hard work, resilience and dedication paid off.
More than 1000 students from the eight systemic Catholic secondary schools across the Diocese of Wollongong completed the HSC in 2020 and more than a third were acknowledged as Distinguished Achievers, with a further six All-Round Achievers, seven Top Achievers and one First in Course.
Students also excelled in Creative Arts, with a number of major works selected for the annual Art Express exhibition and Onstage drama presentation.
Director of Schools in the Diocese of Wollongong, Peter Hill, said that it's clear the challenges presented by COVID-19 did not dull the spirits and determination of the graduating Year 12 class.
"Through their academic achievements, witnessing to their faith, leading their fellow students, and reaching out to those in need, the class of 2020 has embodied the core values of Catholic education," he said.
"Inspired by the person and spirit of Jesus, Catholic schools in the Diocese of Wollongong are called to be signs of God's love and hope in the world.
"They are vibrant communities of faith and learning, providing quality education and opportunity, and supporting every student to find meaning and purpose."
COVID-19 restrictions meant adjustments were needed to support students.
With many external study venues closed, Catholic school libraries remained open and exams were spread over multiple venues to enable social distancing requirements.
Principal of Mt Carmel Catholic College at Narellan, Stephen Lo Cascio, said staff were committed to providing extra support and opportunities for students to succeed. "Students were encouraged to seek assistance where necessary and given opportunities for after-school study classes, lunchtime assistance and holiday lessons," he said.
John Therry Catholic College, Rosemeadow principal Wayne Marshall said: "The HSC group of 2020 need to be congratulated on their outstanding efforts. In a year of loss and interruptions, the resilience and tenacity of this group of young people has been truly amazing, and we wish them the best."