When 17-year-old climate protester Varsha Yajman hit the streets this year, she was told to “stay in school”. This should silence her critics once and for all.
When 17-year-old climate protester Varsha Yajman hit the streets this year, she was told to “stay in school”. This should silence her critics once and for all.

Climate strike protester’s ultimate revenge

In the past 12 months, more than a few people have criticised Varsha Yajman, 17, for favouring climate action over school attendance.

When taking to Sydney's streets to protest government inaction on climate change, the Gosford High School graduate was told by adults and business owners who witnessed the protests to "stay in school".

"That was their message," she told news.com.au.

Varsha is one of thousands of Australian students who have rallied around the nation this year, as part of the global movement for climate action started by 16-year-old Swedish teen Greta Thunberg.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was among many politicians to condemn the strikes, telling Parliament: "What we want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools."

But Varsha has proved her critics wrong, scoring near perfect score in her Higher School Certificate. She received an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) of 99.15 and a top band result in five of her subjects.

Varsha said balancing her HSC with saving the planet taught her that more than a decade of schooling meant nothing without being able to make a change.

"There's no point having a good education if we don't have security for a good future," she told news.com.au.

RELATED: High achiever's trick to nailing the HSC

Varsha and fellow protest organiser Eliza Lo Russo take a selfie with 400 protesters at a strike in May.
Varsha and fellow protest organiser Eliza Lo Russo take a selfie with 400 protesters at a strike in May.

Varsha, who is a member of the national leadership team for the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and part of the School Strike for Climate team, said her interest in the future of our planet didn't put her education in jeopardy.

"I can see why it's hard to balance," she said, adding that at times both she and her family worried about the overwhelming nature of her involvement in the movement.

"But I found it actually made me prioritise studying. I didn't have the chance to procrastinate, because I might've had a meeting or an event to go to. So if I had an hour to study, that's what I'd do."

RELATED: Australia's answer to Greta Thunberg

After a day in the classroom, a typical afternoon would involve three to four hours organising the strikes. She balanced her HSC workload with logistics meetings and media interviews, having appeared as a young panellist on an episode of ABC's Q&A dedicated to the concerns of high schoolers.

As well as inspiring her to study harder, her experiences have also helped to shape her preferences for university and to develop an interest in politics.

"From being a part of this movement, I learned that there's so much more to life than just getting good grades," she said.

"I have the capacity to be a part of an amazing movement where people are pushing each other to step up - not just for climate action, but climate justice. Justice for humanity. Every single person has the ability to have their say and use their power."

One person who hadn't done much to use his power when it came to climate action, said Varsha, was the nation's leader.

"It's absolutely appalling to see Scott Morrison on holiday when there's a crisis in our hands," she said.

"He needs to represent Australia, and that means carrying us through these difficult times by taking action."

The main point of the movement, Varsha said, was to put pressure on Australia's politicians, big businesses and corporations to take action. At an event in Spain, Greta told a crowd of 500,000 that young people around the world "don't want to continue" striking - a sentiment echoed by Varsha.

"We've done all we can," she said.

"There are some things that are too big for us to take into our hands."

Thousands of students and protesters gather in The Domain in Sydney ahead of a climate strike rally on September 20. Picture: Jenny Evans/Getty Images
Thousands of students and protesters gather in The Domain in Sydney ahead of a climate strike rally on September 20. Picture: Jenny Evans/Getty Images

While some members of the public who have witnessed the students striking are supportive, Varsha said she felt from others a great deal of anger and hatred, especially from those in power.

"They felt we were simply skipping school for the sake of it, which is frustrating to me because there is no security for our future in a world that's deteriorating at the hands of climate change," she told news.com.au.

"Our generation has it the worst, so the government needs to listen to young people. Ultimately it's our future that's at stake. Why should they be making decisions for a future that they won't be a part of?"

Asked what she'd tell students who want to strike but are hesitant, Varsha said, "Just go for it. Have the conversation with your parents, and even if you're unable to strike on days where you might miss school, go to some of the weekend events or join in via social media."

She'll be off to the University of Sydney next year, where she'll study arts (majoring in government) and law, but that doesn't mean she'll stop fighting for climate justice.

"I'm ready to see some action now," she said.

A sea of students and protesters at Sydney’s September 20 climate strike. Picture: Jenny Evans/Getty Images
A sea of students and protesters at Sydney’s September 20 climate strike. Picture: Jenny Evans/Getty Images