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'You must keep your eye on the ball': how Hayley dealt with pressure to earn perfect score

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University graduate Hayley Cohen says she felt like a professional tennis player on Netflix series Break Point, amid the pressure of trying to earn a perfect score.

Hailing from the Sunshine Coast, the former writer and receptionist said she did not give much thought to studying law, before enrolling in a Juris Doctor.

But it paid dividends when she graduated from the University of Southern Queensland this month, with a perfect grade point average of seven.

“I was thinking about a career change when the thought suddenly entered my mind – why not try law? The next day, I was enrolled,” she said.

“I chose to study at the University of Southern Queensland because it was a university that offered distance education.

“I appreciate universities that strive to make learning accessible for everyone – not just students who live in major cities, have permanent residence and can afford to study full-time on campus.”

Ms Cohen graduated top of her class and was handed valedictorian for her graduation ceremony at the Ipswich Civic Centre on October 17.

She achieved a high distinction for all 24 subjects, three of which were transferred from another university.

The high achiever said she didn’t set out to get a perfect score when she started her Juris Doctor in late 2020.

Valedictorian Hayley Cohen is joined by her mother Suzy Szlavik at the University of Southern Queensland graduation ceremony.

“I was surprised when I received my first few high distinctions. After that, it motivated me to keep up the standard,” she said.

“However, the deeper I went into the degree with a perfect academic record, the more the pressure was on me.

“I felt like one of the professional tennis players in the Netflix series Break Point.

“Achieving high grades is about mental toughness.

“You must keep your eye on the ball.

“You must learn to ignore the critic inside your head because if you don’t stay focused and make one big mistake in an exam or essay, that may be the end of that perfect score.”

Ms Cohen attributed her outstanding academic achievement to hard work.

“From the moment I woke up until I went to bed, I was studying,” she said.

“When you embark on a three-year-long degree, life is bound to throw obstacles your way, and it can be challenging to stay motivated.

“It comes down to how much you want something and how much you’re willing to sacrifice for it.

“For me, it was not so much about obtaining high distinctions as it was about making the most out of my university experience and education.

“I was also fortunate I had a solid support system: family and friends who encouraged me, wanted the best for me and celebrated my successes.”

Ms Cohen will soon start an associateship with a federal court judge.

“This has been my dream job ever since I heard about it during a lecture in my first year of university,” she said.

“Competition for the position is strong. It became part of why I pushed myself to obtain such high grades.”

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