From the Warden: 10th May 2020

So, there are not going to be any Leaving Certificate exams this year. It is probably the right course of action, but I cannot bring myself to feel any satisfaction about the cancellation, even if it simplifies my summer and that of all our teachers. It does mean that once this term ends and we have tried to interpret the criteria for awarding Leaving Cert grades, we can put it to bed and not have to spend an extra couple of months keeping the 6th form bubbling along until the exams finally begin at the end of July. I won’t have to fret about whether our overseas pupils will be able to get back into the country to sit the exams. We will not have to administer the exams right the way through August and that means we might actually get a holiday. Not that anyone can go anywhere, of course. Overall then, for the staff it is probably a relief.

However, schools are about young people and that is why I am not feeling satisfied. The last couple of months have been hugely stressful for the 6th Form, not knowing whether they are coming or going. I am sure there is a sense of relief that there is at least a clear course of action, but feelings will definitely be mixed. Imagine spending your whole secondary schooling psyching yourself up for the famous Leaving Cert, that semi-mythical beast that lurks as a rite of passage to devour every teenager in Ireland. Your siblings have done it, your parents did it, even your grandparents. People swap stories about it: the stress, the all-nighters, the celebrations when they finished and the results. You may be dreading it, but there is also a feeling of excitement, the facing of a necessary evil, via which one will burst forth into adulthood. Then suddenly it is snatched away. There has to be a feeling of anti-climax. The butterfly emerges from the chrysalis without that last desperate struggle to break free. Yes, it is a relief, but it doesn’t feel quite right.

These 6th Formers will always be the ones who never got to sit their final exams. Yes, they will get the results, and those results will be as fair as possible, but they will be the ones who never got to finish school properly. They won’t have the satisfaction of walking out of their final exam and burning their Maths notes. Well I guess they can still burn them, but it won’t have that same sense of catharsis. They have been cheated, not by the school, or by politicians, but by fate. That is why I cannot feel any satisfaction.

But then again, I wonder whether I am forgetting what true education is all about and why I got into teaching in the first place. I believe very strongly that terminal exam results, while necessary, are an appalling yardstick for measuring the worth of anyone, and certainly not that of a young person emerging from school after 13 years of education. Does all that time in school really come down to a piece of paper with a few numbers on it? That flies in the face of everything that I believe is the purpose of education. To think I nearly forgot myself. Education is about building character. It is about who you are becoming and the values on which you choose to build your life.  And so I am going to look at things differently.

I want to say this to my 6th Formers, now, in writing, in case it doesn’t come across very well when I try and articulate it in some impersonal virtual assembly later in the week. ‘You did finish school properly. You finished properly, because, over the course of the last few years at St. Columba’s, you bought into the values of the College and you have turned into deeply caring and thoughtful young people. You have had a fantastic and privileged education in many ways, but you have taken an interest in the world around you and become compassionate and humble. You have celebrated the strong, but you have also looked after and cherished the weak, which is a wonderful thing to say about any group of people. I know you want to be successful (whatever that really means) but you also want do good and generous things with your lives. I know that because I have talked with you. You are very good company, with a great sense of humour, and I have always enjoyed spending time with you. I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me what I already know…that you are a group of young adults of whom I and the College can be very proud. Proud of who you are, regardless of your ‘results.’ The chrysalis was not the Leaving Certificate, but the whole of your education. And you have emerged with dazzling wings.’