Sarah Geraghty on... the class of 2014

If you don’t get the points you wanted, keep calm. One more year to get what you really want is no disaster. Photograph: Thinkstock

If you don’t get the points you wanted, keep calm. One more year to get what you really want is no disaster. Photograph: Thinkstock

Sat, Aug 2, 2014, 01:00

Dear Leaving Cert class of 2014, can you imagine yourself in 10 years? Can you even imagine yourself 10 days from now? Hello? The night before your Leaving Cert results?

We remembered it all at our 10-year school reunion in December. Mount Sackville class of 2003 – a bit glossier now but mostly the same girls from the days when our entire lives seemed to hinge on CAO points. We wanted to be architects, nurses, artists, businesswomen, musicians, speech therapists, journalists, beauticians, scientists, cooks, dentists, doctors, actors, directors, pharmacists and teachers.

What happened us in the 10 years in between? Everything. But a lot of it didn’t come close to that great master plan. The speech therapist now works for Facebook. The microbiologist has reinvented herself as a yoga teacher. The astrophysicist who volunteered for a summer in India now works for a children’s charity. The one who defied the guidance counsellor’s advice to lower her Leaving Cert aspirations hung tight to her ambition to qualify as an accountant and is now a senior manager with Deloitte in London.

For some, it wasn’t exactly a smooth run. My parents were still congratulating themselves on nurturing their first child into third level when I threw them a curveball and broke the news that I’d failed first year.

It’s all clear to me now. I just reel back to that glorious October day when it clicked that I didn’t have to go to that tutorial . . . or any tutorial. Or any lecture.

The June exams were a disaster, followed up with a warning from the French and linguistics departments that there would be no second year if I failed the August repeat.

Let’s just say the course didn’t sing to me. Yet there I was on a September day, stunned at the inevitable result on the arts block noticeboard, my oldest friend beside me, (discreetly) clueless as to how anyone could fail first-year arts.

The aftermath was grim – banging down the doors of scary department heads begging them to review this catastrophic miscarriage of justice. And the really hard bit . . . realising that my friends would carry on and graduate together. And I’d be back at the start. Alone. Repeating the year “off books”. This is a way of placating parents in which you don’t pay fees because you’re not on the college “books” so not entitled to attend lectures or tutorials. So you have to teach yourself Waiting for Godot. In French.

But hey y’all, was it not Garth Brooks who twanged “some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers”? I finally passed and, with the help of a good tutor and a wise country boy, switched into a course that did sing to me.

Let’s be clear. This is NOT an endorsement of feckless first-year behaviour, but a reminder that there are second chances and there are always choices. And, whatever the next stage is, embrace it.

My mum dropped me off at college during freshers’ week with a reassuring, “the people in there will become your best friends”. Yeah right, I thought. My real friends will always be the ones I’ve spent every day of the last six years with, who were all in love with Leo in Titanic and bonded for life on the messy Leaving Cert holiday in Santa Ponsa.

It took a while, but suddenly the quiet ones were star debaters, someone was heading off to St Petersburg for a year, and laddish friends were founding a college cancer society.

And best-friendships were made that have carried on through college and well out the other side. How many of the 18th birthday party guests are on the 30th birthday party list? Not a lot.

So as you set out into your great unknown, here are 10 things we would tell our Leaving Cert selves, if only we could: 1. If you don’t get the points you wanted, keep calm. One more year to get what you really want is no disaster. Believe me. 2. Nothing has to be forever. And no experience, good or bad, is a waste. 3. In college, be kind. People remember. 4. Put yourself out there. The person beside you at your first lecture may be your best friend 10 years from now. Or you might end up married. 5. Work a little bit hard. Get to know your lecturers and tutors. If you’re unhappy, explore your options – but get your exams first. 6. Join societies and make use of your long summers. You’ll never have them again. 7. Don’t smoke because you fancy someone who smokes. 8. Don’t be loud to get the attention of someone you fancy. They’ll just think you’re loud and annoying. 9. Respect and listen to the mature students. They know stuff. 10. Don’t let your mum see your timetable.

PS. The lonely Beckett translations paid off. My first proper job was at the French embassy. Just keep calm . . . Róisín Ingle is on holiday

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