Ireland Today writers discuss their Leaving Cert Experiences

By Mark O’Brien & Caitriona McMahon

With the Leaving Cert results due out tomorrow and the pressure to do well overwhelming for some. But if you don’t get the points you are looking for tomorrow, remember that there are lots of other options open to you and a wealth of career choices available. Here, two of our writers discuss their own Leaving Cert experiences.

Caitriona McMahon

Caitriona McMahaon

Just over 14 years ago I sat knees knocking, hands trembling waiting for my first English exam paper to be placed on the table. Facing what I believed to be the deciding moments of the rest of my life. Had I done enough? Should I have read over chapter 5 once more? What if the poems I studied don’t come up? Will I have enough time?

I will never forget the Leaving Cert exams – the smell of freshly cut grass complimented by the beaming sunlight roasting us all like turkeys inside the window.

You could hear a pen drop and the terror was plain for all to see on each other’s faces. The after exam postmortem dissecting every segment was every bit as traumatic as the test itself.

The exams came and the exams went and if I knew then what I know now I certainly wouldn’t have stressed so much.

School exams fail to take into account valuable aspects of our capability, such as resilience, coping strategies, common sense, the ability to work with a team, and social skills.

You see, I got the marks I wanted to attend college in Cork but after one week I decided it was not for me and returned home to Limerick to enroll in a Post-Leaving Cert course.

There, new areas of learning were presented to me, ones that if I had stayed where I was originally, I would have missed. At the time dropping out of college in Cork felt like the end of the world, thinking I was a failure when in fact it was only the beginning.

In my opinion the learning really starts after school when we begin to learn and accept ourselves and the choices we can make.

Employers do not look for Leaving Cert grades on a piece of paper. They look for well rounded individuals willing to learn and that add a unique dynamic to what they do.

Tomorrow as you open your results, know that no matter what the result, you will navigate and captain your own ship from here. You choose the ports you will dock at and the treasures you will discover.

No result on a piece of paper will change that. And my motto is, if you can’t find the job you want then create it.

Mark O'Brien

Mark O’Brien

Thinking back to half a lifetime ago when I did my Leaving Cert, I have to be honest and say there’s not much that I can remember about it.

I certainly remember feeling under a lot of pressure and, as a result, maybe didn’t study as much as I should have and ended up not doing particularly well in my exams.

I still think it’s a huge amount of pressure to put on the shoulders of young people, who are still coming to terms with who they are and what they want to do with their life. That being said, I wouldn’t change the path my life has taken and perhaps not doing so well in my exams was a blessing in disguise.

Due to my less than stellar results, I had a few options open to me. I could have repeated the Leaving Cert but the way I was feeling at the time, there was no way that was going to happen. I also could have maybe done a PLC that would have helped me get in to my first choice courses but again, that didn’t appeal to me, so I ended up moving all the way up to Donegal to go to college in Letterkenny.

The course I did never really interested me and I ended up dropping out after my second year but I gained valuable life experience, grew up in ways I wouldn’t have done if I’d gone to college in Dublin and lived with my parents, and made some great friends that I still count as some of my best friends almost 20 years later.

As a teenager I had wanted to be a journalist but went off the idea by the time I reached my Leaving Cert year and didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I guess deep down, I still had that idea of being a journalist there but I’m glad I didn’t go into it at that age, when I was still very shy and maybe lacking in a bit of confidence.

After working in various industries and figuring out what I din’t like, I eventually went back to college and studied journalism and breezed through it. I eventually found a subject I enjoyed and so it was easy to get through.

Everyone is different though. Some will already know what they want to do and some won’t have a clue. Maybe it will take you a few years to figure that out and that’s okay. Maybe you’ll go into a course that you think you will love, only to find that it’s not for you.

If that happens, don’t beat yourself up too much over it. You will eventually find something that you do enjoy doing and even if you find yourself disappointed with your results tomorrow, remember it’s not the end of your world. It’s only just the beginning.

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