Despite flight delays back to Cape Town and tiredness from an awards evening the night before, the top matric pupil in the country, Madelein Dippenaar, was all smiles as she was welcomed at her old school Paarl Gimnasium on Wednesday afternoon.Her friends, fellow pupils and teachers cheered and sang "We love you Scuba, we do" - a nickname she was given in Grade 8 - as she made her way to them on the steps outside the auditorium.The 18-year-old was given flowers and warm wishes, including from Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer and school principal Eddie Bateman.Bateman said Dippenaar's overall average of 96.9% was an unbelievable achievement and that he was very proud of her and the matrics as a whole.The school obtained a 98.7% pass rate.Reacting to her warm reception and results, Dippenaar said: "I am very happy, a bit overwhelmed, but otherwise really honoured and proud I guess."She said that the final exams had been tiring, but that she had felt prepared as she had already studied everything for the preliminary exams.She plans to study a BSC in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Stellenbosch.Schäfer said Dippenaar and the province's matrics had made her very proud. The Western Cape had the fourth highest pass rate in the country, at 82.3%. "We had the highest number of pupils who remained in school between Grade 10 and 12. We increased our bachelors passes and pass rate. If you take all that into account, we did much better than number four," she told the matriculants in Afrikaans.'Teachers make huge sacrifices'She said she also found it encouraging that, since 2009, significant progress had been made in improving the provincial education system and pupil outcomes, particularly in poorer schools."While we acknowledge that further intervention and improvements need to be made to ensure that all learners have equal access to quality education in this province, there is no argument that the inequality gap is closing."The South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) in the Western Cape welcomed the pass rate on Wednesday."The union wants to salute our teachers for the exceptional work done from Grade R to Grade 12, which prepared our learners during their schooling years," said provincial secretary Jonavon Rustin."Teachers make huge sacrifices every year, which include, after-school classes, weekend classes, motivational talks and exam preparations. The union commends all of you."He said the challenge was to ensure the pass rate kept improving, as well as the quality of the exam outcomes and retention of pupils.