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Bounce Back with Mohammed Zaoud

My story began in Auburn, where I was born and raised in a family of seven children. Of the seven, I am the youngest and was the only one who attended university.

I was doing fairly okay in primary but when it came to high school, I was struggling. In Year 8 there were 200 kids at my school and I was around 100th in English and Maths. For me, I wasn’t doing very well, since I was hovering around the middle of the crowd.

I then started hanging around with some friends who… let’s just use euphemism to indicate they didn’t attend university. At that point, my dad gave me an ultimatum: I either start studying or he’ll give me the ‘Lebanese father discipline’.

That was how I ended up going to Chalkwall, Alpha Omega Education at the time, in the school holidays.

My very first lesson brought me to tears, quite frankly. Not because I was dragged by my ear to class by my father, but because it was such a difficult class.
I was put in a 2-unit Maths class. It was a Year 10, going into Year 11 2-unit preparatory class and I was only in Year 8.
I felt so out of place, I can’t explain it. I remember so clearly crying that day. I was out of my depth. The first test I sat there was on surds, so I did what any 13 year old would do – I just used my calculator to get my answers.

I don’t know what they saw in me but they kept me in that Maths class. After a few months, I started actually doing fairly well and I began to compete with the Year 10 kids. Even though it was tough and I wanted to quit after 15 minutes, as soon as I started getting it, the rest was history. I never saw myself as a really studious person, even when I started achieving results. But I think succeeding – getting a couple of good results – breeds success. It lit a fire from under me, it really did. I wasn’t satisfied with top 10, I wanted top 3. It got to a point where I would have nightmares of getting certain questions wrong, you wouldn’t believe it.

It’s important to note as well that the only ever subject I did at Chalkwall was Maths, but the competitive environment instilled something in me that allowed me to get focused and driven for my other subjects.

By the end of Year 9, I went from around 100th in English, to 8th. And I went from 100th in Maths to 5th.

I maintained those results right through high school. I ended up getting 99.15 for my ATAR. I couldn’t believe it. My parents were so proud, but they didn’t think I’d get 99 – noone did.

Yes, it was hard work, but it wasn’t just study. I was school captain, I was playing first-grade rugby until I hurt my elbow, I had a part-time job, I was speaking at the Parliament House on a few occassions- I was a fairly busy 16 year old.

Two or three times a week, on the way to school I’d go with a group of friends to Sydney Aquatic Centre and swim before school and make it to school by 8 o’clock. From 8 to 8:45am, before the bell rang, I would do my study. I was doing 45 minutes to an hour of study, every morning. Every single morning.

In Year 12, that changed. I would arrive to school every day at 7am.
You can ask anyone who knew me, I was always in one of the classrooms. Sometimes I’d even jump the fence if the school wasn’t open. I ensured I was doing at least 2 hours of study a day, before school. When I came home after school, how I chose to spend the rest of the night was at my discretion. The consistent 2 hours a day were brilliant. A few others joined me – we had a cult! – and it was a really good way to manage time.

I put the 99 to a few things:
1. It was the consistency of my hard work over the period of years. Those hours before school paid off.
2. I had a whiteboard in my room, with a drawn table. In one column, I had the days of the week, a column that had everything that I had to achieve the week in terms of study, and a column that had my other commitments for the week. I’d fill in my commitments followed by my study timetable.

Looking back, I had three groups of friends.
• The first group of friends were fun but relatively studious.
• The second group of friends were pure fun.
• The third group of friends were competitive classmates They were the guys who would come to school after the weekend and ask: “how many past papers did you do this weekend? It was really good because it gave me the chance to compare and compete.
I think that balance was really important and worked well for me.

I received a Co-Op scholarship to study Commerce at UNSW. Now I’m living in Qatar, working for Al Jazeera as the head of digital growth.

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