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A Letter to Leaving Certers

Story by Sinead Hogan

Wednesday, 14th August, 2013 4:09pm

A Letter to Leaving Certers

The first person I saw walk out of the school doors in Ballyjamesduff this morning was trying hard to cover her face as it melted into tears. The pain was visible as she walked from the school doors to the person waiting in a car for her. It was likely the last time she’ll walk out those doors after maybe five or six years of doing so daily, and she looked like her life had just fallen apart.
My lack of enthusiasm for my morning’s assignment turned to compassion. I wanted to reach out and tell that girl that it’s not over, Leaving Cert results are not everything. They don’t define your life. They shape it for sure, but by no means in the clearcut 'good result = good life’ 'bad result = bad life’ way that you might feel on this emotionally intense day. I experienced this in reverse.
Back in 1992, I surprised myself with good Leaving Cert results. I wasn’t a 600-pointer, but with a smattering of As, Bs and Cs in honours subject I was in the top few academic achievers at my school and secured a choice between my top CAO selections of Journalism and International Marketing in DCU. Quite pleased with myself I went on to the former.
The four college years that ensued were, for me, misery. Looking back, it was a crossroads at which I took a wrong turn, and for many years after my life was all about working my way back to a path I was happy to be on. 
Far more students exiting St. Clare’s this morning looked happy than disappointed, but for each of them as they crossed this threshold from schooldays to life in the big world, extra-curricular life lessons were clearly being learnt.
Sporting compassion was beautifully evident, as many tuned down their happiness with their own results because they felt for friends who were disappointed.
You will also learn to deal with the 'how did you do?’ interest. Remember this is your victory or defeat for you to get your head around. Be kind to yourself and accept kindness where you get it. A bad exam result doesn’t make you unworthy. There is support out there, allow yourself to receive it.
One valuable slow-burning lesson you may learn as a result of today, is to take both victories and defeats with a pinch of salt. Win at this, lose at that, up today, down tomorrow, life is constantly changing.
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, 
And treat those two impostors just the same...”
Rudyard Kipling’s recommendation may seem far-fetched, but it is wise to know that often 'top’ today means 'bottom’ tomorrow and vice versa. Don’t get carried away with either.
Happiness is a complex thing. I’ve found that learning to live a contented life is more about internal change than external circumstances. My interest in holistic health and philosophies - managing my attitudes and feelings, 'getting my head around’ things - has contributed more to my happiness than my academic education.
There were about 100 of us that day focused in what was in that envelope with our name on it.
Looking back, if mine had contained a clear instruction on how to value and look after myself, physically, mentally and spiritually, it probably would have been a more direct path to peace and contentment.
So if today, the job you now feel is your dream was cruelly placed out of reach, life is not over. 
Your feelings of disappointment, heartbreak, despair are justifiable, real and not to be underestimated nor denied. Allow yourself to feel all that you are feeling, but importantly, allow yourself to move on from that before too long.
Maybe someday you’ll have the joy of holding your newborn baby. Maybe you’ll be someone who finds the perfect other half and enjoys companionship all your days. Maybe you’ll find personal peace in living a life more solitary and less ordinary as who you are unfolds in the years ahead. Maybe you’ll yet find yourself in a rewarding occupation where you feel you have something of value to give and get to give it in a workplace of respect and humanity. (It might seem impossible if your results were a disappointment, but the biggest of blessings can come in heavy disguise.)
Even when I felt I sort of lost my way in the college years, that wasn’t the end either. I found my way again before long, and have enormous joys in my life (as well as my share of annoyances, of course). 
I recall graffiti on a toilet door in The Flowing Tide pub in Dublin in the mid 1990s: 'It’ll all be ok in the end; if it’s not ok it’s not the end’.
Wise words from whoever took out a biro to scratch them into the wooden door. I wonder how results day was for them...

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