Life after the Leaving Cert- You are more than a piece of paper

So leaving cert results day is upon us once more. This morning thousands of Irish students across the country will open a brown envelope that they think will determine the course of their life. The truth is many of you will be overjoyed, but the other sad reality is many of you will be disappointed. And that’s Okay. I know we’ve heard this countless times.  Every year it’s the same spiel, ‘it’s not the be all and end all’ ‘there are ways and means around everything’. At the time they seem like throwaway comments to make those who didn’t quite get what they wanted feel better, but in actual fact it’s the truth. I didn’t believe it then, but I sure as hell do now. For anyone feeling a little let down today, let me share with you my leaving cert story.

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I sat my Leaving Cert in June 2011. (Still coming to terms with the fact that, that was five whole years ago). I was 17. The world was my oyster (or clam as I once very blondely referred to it).  For a long while I struggled to find what it was I actually wanted to do after school. All around me classmates were interested in being teachers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, nurses, radiographers, dietitians, pharmacists, scientists, vets, you name it. But I knew I didn’t want to be any of those things. They just didn’t appeal to me. It felt like there wasn’t a single course out there to suit me. It was by chance that I actually discovered my area of interest.

Surprise surprise it was actually at one of those tedious higher options fares that you only go a long to, to skive a day off school. But it turned out to be very useful. I realised that my passions lay with writing and the media. Within weeks I had decided that media and Journalism was the route for me. Looking back it definitely wasn’t one of the more advertised courses.

Anyway my friends agreed it was the perfect avenue for the blunt, outspoken Jess they knew. So I started working towards my goal. At roughly around 435 points in all of the colleges that offered it across the country, it was achievable. I decided on UL as my first choice. There was an extra entry requirement in most colleges of at least a B3 in English, but as far as I was concerned this wouldn’t be an issue. English was my subject. I loved it all the way up both primary and secondary school. As a child I was always writing stories in my spare time. Most people loathed Shakespeare and the the list of ‘boring dead white guys’ i.e  poets, but I loved it all. It was a welcome escape from algebra, equations and the Krebbs cycle.

I worked hard, I did my homework, listened in class, and did my bit of study every night. I didn’t kill myself, but I definitely applied myself. When the two weeks of exams came I was confident. I was happy with every exam bar English paper 2. I felt I over thought it a lot, which resulted in me panicking slightly through it, but aside from that I was home free.

Summer began and the worries of the results were put on hold until August. I went to Oxegen with my friends to celebrate. Almost every weekend thereafter was spent traipsing around the public houses of Kilkenny city. Summer 2011 was a good’un. Then came August and I was turning 18. A mere 3 days before results day. The excitement and simultaneous nervousness was rife.

I’ve spoken about it briefly in previous blog posts, but the night of my 18th was bitter sweet. Many of you reading probably already know, but my drink was spiked pretty badly. I ended up suffering an adverse reaction, which saw me confused and disorientated in hospital the night before results were out. The spiking caused a chemical imbalance in my brain so I was really unwell.  Not exactly what I had planned but sure hey. That’s a story for another day.

The morning of results came and my mam had gone in to collect my results and bring them home, seeing as I had only been released from hospital late the previous night. I’ll never forget the feeling of opening the envelope, hands shaking my entire future rested in what was enclosed. I ripped it open and quickly scanned to make sure there were no Ds or Fs. I saw As Bs and Cs. Relief. When I had calmed down enough to check what each grade was in, I was met with a wave of horror.
I just remember asking “What’s the second C in?” Everyone in the kitchen was silent. But it was there in black and white.
English: C1.

C fucking 1.  

I needed at least a B3. My sister added up my points and informed me that I had received 495. Amazing, 60 over what I needed. But it didn’t matter. I still couldn’t do what I wanted. My favourite subject had let me down. I had gone from an A/B student to a C. I threw the piece of paper on the floor and I ran down to my room. I was still suffering the affects of the spiking, so later that day I actually tried to convince myself my family had conspired against me and fabricated my results. I demanded to see the ‘real’ copy. It was all pretty crazy. In the days that followed I was in and out of hospital for check ups.

It soon transpired that I would be taking a year out before going to college. My family encouraged me that it was for the best. I was well and truly devastated. It was never part of my plan. But looking back I was too unwell to start, plus I didn’t get straight Journalism so I needed the time to figure out what I was going to do. In an instant all my college dreams were slashed. I felt like a failure. Watching all my home friends move away and start new and exciting lives in Dublin and beyond was one of the hardest things I’ve gone through. Though my friends were amazing to keep in touch, I couldn’t help but feel left behind.

I never thought I would be the one it would happen to. I wasn’t going to be the disappointed one, no. Not me. Yet I ended up getting hit with a double edged sword. For the year I was off as a result of everything that happened, my mental health suffered a lot. I grew into myself and I was sad and lonely all the time. Who was blunt, outspoken Jess? Where was she? 

A dodgy drink and a piece of paper had ruined my life. (or so I believed at the time).

It wasn’t until the summer before I was due to start college the following year, that I truly started feeling like myself again. I realised the grade wasn’t a reflection on my abilities, and that what happened the night of my 18th wasn’t my fault. I went inter-railing and I re-discovered the spark in life. I had debated about repeating my English, but I didn’t want to go through the stress of it all again. Given it’s so subjective who’s to say some cranky old examiner wouldn’t have given me a C all over again?

My heart was still with UL though, so I decided to go for their New Media and English course instead. I could always do a post grad dip in Journalism after, if I so desired. Once I had gotten over the disappointment, I realised the range of options available at my fingertips.

So you see, I was more than the piece of paper. It just took me a little while to realise it. There’s an old cheesy quote that goes something like ‘sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck’, and I firmly believe that.

Five years on,  I’m working in London and flying home to graduate in 5 days. If it hadn’t been for everything that happened in August 2011, I wouldn’t have the friends, boyfriend, and wonderful memories and life experiences I have now.

So if you’re any way upset today, please know there is life after the leaving cert! It’s natural to feel this way, but I promise you, your dreams aren’t over.

So cry it out, drown your sorrows in a few naggins, but don’t let it hold you back. It didn’t define me, and it doesn’t define you.Plus life is more fun if there are a few twists and turns a long the way! The straight road is overrated.

You are more than a piece of paper.
~Jessie
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