Meet the Leaving Cert class of 2021: ‘Only Covid can stop us now’

After a stop-start year, students of Castlecomer CS are excited about the future

John Kevin Malone, Aoife Walsh, Kevin Holland, Ava O’Shea, Ciarán Kehoe and Tori Douglas, Leaving Cert students at Castlecomer Community School, Co Kilkenny.  Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times

John Kevin Malone, Aoife Walsh, Kevin Holland, Ava O’Shea, Ciarán Kehoe and Tori Douglas, Leaving Cert students at Castlecomer Community School, Co Kilkenny. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times

 

There’s never been a Leaving Cert like this. Students have missed almost six months of school and the class of 2021, all clad in masks, have the choice of taking exams or opting for accredited grades.

Not only have students missed out on chunks of their education, but they’ve also missed out on their friends, their sport and many of the other activities they love.

The traditional Leaving Cert holiday to a sunny clime like Spain or Greece – a much-anticipated rite of passage for many – is off the cards for most due to travel restrictions.

To top it off, it’s a nervous few weeks for the exam students: if someone in the year does catch Covid-19, not only will they be prevented from sitting the exam and forced to take accredited grades, but their whole class might face the same fate if they’ve been in contact with a positive case.

It’d be enough to push the most resilient over the edge of despair.

And yet, when The Irish Times meets the students of Castlecomer Community School, they’re in good spirits and largely excited about the future.

This year, six students from the Kilkenny school will provide us with feedback and insights during the exams against the backdrop of a global pandemic.

How are they holding up, and what’s it been like for the school? Pat Murphy, principal of Castlecomer CS, says that the past year has been tough for everyone.

“We all wore masks all days, which isn’t easy, and it definitely made the students a bit more subdued as well as impacting on the really enjoyable and modern educational practices around group work,” he says.

Students didn’t realise how much they loved school until there was no school to go to, Murphy suggests.

“They missed the social aspect and the sense of purpose that school brings to their lives, and they missed out on the extracurricular, the matches, the experiments, the school trips and just meeting their friends every day.”

Four past pupils play senior intercounty hurling for Kilkenny, while one plays for Laois. Two past pupils play camogie for Kilkenny. The school recently opened a new sports complex with a new gym, running track and hurling pitches with funds predominantly raised by the local community. The school has a strong track record in the BT Young Scientist competition. And from next year, students can take part in a new annual school musical. Up close and personal. They can’t wait.

Ciarán Kehoe from Castlecomer Community School, Co Kilkenny. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times.
Ciarán Kehoe from Castlecomer Community School, Co Kilkenny. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times.

Ciarán Kehoe, 19

“So I’m choosing predicted grades for all subjects and sitting them all except biology and French.

“I’ve applied to do dentistry in Trinity. I thought I wanted medicine but after a week at Waterford Hospital and a week in a dental practice, I realised what I wanted.

“While Trinity is my first choice, I’ve also applied to do dentistry in Valencia, Spain, as a back-up. Studying in Spain could be an amazing experience, so I’m open to what happens.

“The pandemic was pretty tough at the start, and you really had to force yourself to study. It wasn’t delightful to celebrate my 18th birthday in my bedroom, but at least there was PlayStation to game with friends.”

Ava O’Shea from Castlecomer Community School, Co Kilkenny. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times
Ava O’Shea from Castlecomer Community School, Co Kilkenny. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times

Ava O’Shea, 18

“In the past year, we’ve had no break from school, no nights out, studying online, and a lot of uncertainty.

“I think students had the best of both worlds to be able to choose between predicted grades, exams or both. For my subjects – Irish, English, maths, biology, home economics and geography – I’ve opted to sit them all except for Irish, and I get the higher grade from accredited grades or from the exam.

“I’ve missed my friends, the camogie and the training. But I’m looking forward now, and hoping to do business studies or global business in DCU. I’m hoping that the restrictions will be lifted by the time of results so we can have a party!”

John Kevin Malone from Castlecomer Community School, Co Kilkenny. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times
John Kevin Malone from Castlecomer Community School, Co Kilkenny. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times

John Kevin Malone, 18

“I love drama and theatre, but that’s been off the table the past year. I’m hoping to get into the Law and French course in Trinity or UCD and I want to get involved in the drama society.

“I think I’d like to be a barrister – there’s a clear overlap with the drama!

“It’ll all depend on how the exams go. I’m sitting everything but English because I have done well in that subject for the past year.

“No Leaving Cert holiday this year and I have a few friends who have lost their holiday deposits. I keep in touch with friends over Snapchat, but deactivated Instagram so that I wouldn’t be as distracted. Has it worked? We’ll see when the results come in.”

Kevin Holland from Castlecomer Community School, Co Kilkenny. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times
Kevin Holland from Castlecomer Community School, Co Kilkenny. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times

Kevin Holland, 19

“I’ve decided to go for predicted grades and sit all the exams except Irish and applied maths.

“The pandemic was not too painful for me because there was school work to be done but, without that, I would have been bored out of my mind.

“I missed hurling and playing with Erin’s Own, my local club, but hoping it picks up again. I’m looking forward to college, where I’m hoping to do commerce in UCD or UCC. Like a lot of us, I am hoping that we will be able to have a night out when we get the results.

“When I look forward, I think about travel and seeing the world, and I’m hopeful this will be an option for us.”

Tori Douglas from Castlecomer Community School, Co Kilkenny. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times
Tori Douglas from Castlecomer Community School, Co Kilkenny. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times

Tori Douglas, 18

“I’m sitting all the exams because I need the points for the course I want: Law and French in Trinity.

“I want to work as a translator, and was advised that it was a good idea to have a knowledge of law or computer science to work in the EU – and I didn’t want to do more coding.

“The third lockdown was the hardest, and the most uncertain. I worried about catching and passing on Covid, but I’m looking forward now to meeting likeminded people in college.

“The exams are the hurdle, of course. I tell you, when this is over, I will sleep a lot.”

Aoife Walsh from Castlecomer Community School, Co Kilkenny. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times
Aoife Walsh from Castlecomer Community School, Co Kilkenny. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times

Aoife Walsh, 18

“I’m sitting everything except my least-favourite subject, English.

“My focus is on getting into the biological and biomedical science course at Maynooth University, which is a course that would open up a lot of research-related jobs. It helps that my favourite subject is biology.

“I’m really excited about a few things. Celebrating with friends is one, and while a holiday outside Ireland is off the table, we’re hoping to rent a little place for a few days away during the summer. The other is college. This year’s first years missed so much, but people say it is the best time of your life.”