Life after the Leaving: ‘I remember being so nervous opening the envelope’

Ben Butler is a programme manager at Stripe (a company that does online payment processing for internet businesses based in Dublin and San Francisco)

Ben Butler – programme manager at Stripe –business and law graduate from Trinity College Dublin.

Ben Butler – programme manager at Stripe –business and law graduate from Trinity College Dublin.


By day, I’m a programme manager at Stripe, and a stand-up comedian by night. I went to CBC Monkstown, an all-boys school in south Dublin. I was actually there all the way up from Junior Infants – so I’m still surprised that I can talk to girls.

I did eight subjects for my Leaving: the core ones plus Latin, history, economics and business.

I remember being so nervous opening the envelope, and it took me a good few attempts to actually calculate the points.

I think I was more nervous when the CAO offers came out than my actual results day. Or maybe that was just the particular make-up of my CAO day. Every year, RTÉ news profiles one kid who gets their results and – in 2011 – that kid was me.

So I had the added pressure of an imminent camera crew the morning of my CAO offer. If you’re feeling nervous on August 15th, I hope you take some solace in that your reaction isn’t going to be on the Six One News.

I was fortunate enough to get my first choice of Law and Business in Trinity. Because I liked drama and debating, I was told I should be a lawyer. I enjoyed the business subjects so it seemed like the best combination.

Extracurricular activities

I really loved my time in Trinity, but a lot of that came from the extracurricular activities. I did quite enjoy the academics, particularly in the latter years, but it was the wider collegiate experience that really made it though: whether that was through debating, student societies, or just whiling away the hours in the Pav.

I went into college thinking I’d be a lawyer, but I found myself being more and more drawn to business – both academically and in practice. Studying law helped me build critical-thinking skills, and taught me how to develop cogent arguments, but business wooed me. I’m now working in a tech company, and would love to be a business lecturer in the future.

The Leaving Cert gets a bad rep – arguably deservedly – but I do generally think highly of the Irish education system. If I were Minister for Education, I’d advocate for doubling down on the depth of critical thinking and diminish the rote learning side.

Open-book exams or including some reference materials would also be good. We are allowed log tables for maths so I think it would empower students to have all the poems given to them. Then, rather than spending hours learning off quotes, students could spend more time actually engaging with the material.

If you’re reading this waiting for your results, please get off the Irish Times and go and enjoy your summer!

Friends who didn’t necessarily get the points or course they wanted have ended up in just as good (if not better) places in their lives now by pursuing alternate routes like taking a different course, repeating the Leaving etc. Our education system can feel like a funnel, and that there’s only one path – but that’s most certainly not the case.

Final thoughts from me? Well, my advice to my 18-19-year-old self would be to slow down, and go a little easier on yourself. We tend to put ourselves under pressure, primarily due to perceived expectations of others. Also, Ben, you’ll really regret that Justin Bieber haircut.

In conversation with Áine McMahon