With the pandemic forcing the cancellation of many secondary school graduation ceremonies, sixth year students this week felt the loss of a significant milestone.
But the axing of traditional events has prompted schools over recent days to improvise and celebrate in a variety of new ways.
Virtual graduation ceremonies , dance challenges, celebratory cupcakes and personalised candles are how some schools chose to mark the final days of the class of 2021.
At Laurel Hill Secondary School in Limerick, the school traditionally gives a companionship award to the student who best exemplifies the values such as gentleness, hope, dignity and justice.
In a live-streamed This Is Your Life-style moment during its online graduation, principal Michael Cregan knocked on the front door of the unsuspecting student's home, Fiona Kinnevane.
“Here’s a flavour of the things that were said about her,” said Cregan, as he stood outside her home.
“ ‘She always has a smile on her face’ . . . ‘An amazing personality to be around’. . . ‘a really kind and caring person’ . . . And she should now see someone approaching her front door,” said Cregan, as he handed her a commemorative trophy, to whoops of delight.
Cregan added afterwards: “We’ve missed the atmosphere of having everyone together. It is strange being apart – but we’re tried to create that togetherness online.”
Over at Ratoath Community College in Co Meath, the virtual graduation was preceded by an intricately choreographed video of the school staff and students taking on the Jersualema Challenge.
Against a backdrop of inspiring messages such as ‘stronger together’ and ‘you got this’, staff and pupils dance, skateboard and roller-skate throughout the school building.
It was, staff said, aimed at brightening their final days with a message of hope and togetherness.
As for Leaving Cert students, it has been a time of very mixed emotion.
‘A bit teary’
Eva McDonnell, a sixth year student at Ursuline Secondary School in Blackrock, Cork, was worried that a socially distanced graduation followed by a ceremony over Zoom would feel like a let down.
“Actually, it was a lovely ceremony,” she says. “I definitely got a bit teary towards the end. After that we all gathered together for tea, cake, a few farewell speeches and a lot of photos.
“Although the ceremony was quite different to what my school usually does, I liked how informal it was . . . Overall I’m just happy that we got to have some kind of ending to our six years at school.”
Saskia Eiffe, a sixth year student at St Clare's College in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan, says while they had a virtual graduation along with certificates and class photos – she still feels disappointed to be unable to properly say goodbye to teachers and classmates.
“This year has been so hard on everyone, especially sixth years, we’re supposed to have so many milestones which we’ve missed out on due to the pandemic and it has been very disheartening,” she says.
At Lucan Community College in Dublin, there was a socially distanced awards ceremony without any guests, followed by a virtual graduation later in the evening.
For David Wright, a sixth year student, it was a bittersweet ending.
“Everyone was reflecting on their favourite moments in the school with their friends during the ceremony which made us all emotional,” he said.
“Usually you get to see everyone again when they come in for the exams but this year due to the choice, some people have chosen not to sit any of the exams. This means that we won’t see each other again within the school.. but there was also this feeling of excitement in most people as we move on to the next chapter in our lives.”
Adam Lambe, a Leaving Cert student at St McCartan's College in Monaghan, said while the school's socially-distanced graduation ceremony was a "lovely conclusion", the atmosphere around the school felt muted.
“We were all sad to leave the school and see the hallways for the last time, however, there was little opportunity to really reminisce as after the short ceremony we couldn’t have a social gathering.”
Now, the Leaving Cert exams are coming quickly into view. With most students opting to sit the written exams this year, they are all too aware of the threat posed by Covid-19.
“We all are taking extra precautions to stay at home in the weeks leading up to the exams,” says Lambe.
“I am nervous about the upcoming exams as I am sitting all of my subjects, I am however relieved a little by the adjustments made to the exam . . . Overall I am looking forward to the Leaving Cert being over so I don’t have to stress and I hope we can return to normal soon so I can have an ordinary college experience.”