The results of the Leaving Cert are being released today.
The leaving certificate is Ireland’s equivalent of A levels or the Baccalaureat. It is held each June, where seventeen or eighteen year olds sit a set of exams in various subjects, the results of which will determine which college course or university degree they will be attending – unless of course, they have an apprenticeship or job lined up already.
The theory is that the higher the demand for the college course then the better your grades have to be. What this essentially means is that courses for jobs which have traditionally been high paying – doctors; accountants; vets; dentists; lawyers require good results. Whereas those degrees which give you a training in life skills – arts and humanities are less competitive.
It might seem a bit arbitrary to be asking teenagers to make decisions about how they want to spend the next fifty years of their lives at such a young age. But they have got to start somewhere I suppose.
It’s a siding scale of success. An A1 grade gives you twenty points (for example); an A2 is eighteen points; a B1 is sixteen etc. And if medicine requires eighty points then the combined totals of the points of your chosen subjects needs to add to a minimum of eighty.
It’s a nerve-wracking day. The leaving cert is the most stressful expected life event for a standard eighteen year old to that point (I say expected event of course, as serious illness or losing a parent or a car accident are more stressful, but usually unexpected or at least unwelcome). It is a rite of passage for Irish teenagers. The sense that it’s the last hurrah of your childhood and from then on you are entering the serious world of adulthood. It is the event that your education up to that point has been building towards – the climax of your compulsory education.
That’s all ludicrous of course – most seventeen year olds still don’t know their arse from their elbow – but the Leaving Cert is a serious business. That group of people with whom you have been thrown together, over the past six years will soon be fanning out over the four winds to pursue their own goals. But while you wait for your results you are in the hothouse together – full of bravado about the future, but in truth without a clue as to what the realities of adulthood entail. These are the people you’ve gone to school with, through whom you might have met your first boyfriend or girlfriend, or shared your first kiss or joint with. These people are the reason that ten years later you get an invite to a class reunion, which you won’t attend.
I got my leaving cert results a quarter of a century ago. I find that strange and incomprehensible. I had just turned seventeen. Not knowing what I wanted to do in life I was hoping to do a European Studies degree (which is an Arts degree – I had no burning vision about how I intended to spend my life). I remember going to the school at 9am to collect the results. I remember reading them and being pleased at how well I had done in Engliish, Irish and French.
I remember excitedly checking with school-friends about their results. I remember doing the calculations about whether I would get my desired college course (using last years requirement as a template).
I remember making arrangements to go to Docs in the Granary that evening, for a soiree of underage binge drinking – hoping that security wouldn’t be checking IDs (they weren’t of course – Docs as a venue had been chosen for a reason – namely how tolerant it was of teenage boozing). I remember drinking Bulmers cider in vast quantities (and not touching it again for another fifteen years owing to how sick I felt the next day). I remember hoping that maybe my life could now start properly.
Ah. The innocence of youth. I hope that the students getting their results today all do well and get what they want, and that they find a place to party undisturbed this evening (not by the canal outside my house at midnight mind).
I’d tell them not to sweat it though. Real life isn’t that exciting. And that twenty five years after I got my results, I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.