Saturday 21 September 2019

Eilis O'Hanlon: 'Leaving Cert bores should learn that silence is golden'

(stock photo)
(stock photo)

Eilis O'Hanlon

It's that time of year again, when budding naturalists get to observe one of Ireland's most common native species in its natural habitat.

The ''Leaving Cert bore'' comes in many varieties. Particularly common is the middle-aged bore, who decides every year that the publication of the Leaving Cert results is really about them, not the current crop of students, and takes to the airwaves or social media to regale strangers with tales of how, decades on, they still get nightmares about the whole thing.

Then there's the bore who pops up every August to declare loudly that the whole business of making students sit any exams at all is the greatest oppression the world has ever known, and must be ended immediately before young people's mental health is irreparably damaged beyond repair. And to be fair, they have a point. The risk is ever present that, if too much damage is done, these young people will, 20 or 30 years from now, turn into one of the first type of bore, still seeking vicarious prestige by claiming to still be suffering from Post-Leaving Stress Disorder.

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By far the most bothersome and numerous of the bores, though, are those who insist that today's students shouldn't worry about their results because they themselves flunked the whole thing and, look at them now, they're millionaires.

Businessmen, celebrities, YouTube stars, they're all it. Former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson does a similar thing like clockwork every year on Twitter when exam results come out in Britain. This year's offering went like this: "A-level results a bit rubbish? Don't worry. I got a C and two Us and I've rented this place for the summer." Attached was a photograph of a French chateau, and very nice it looked too. It was "liked" more than 100,000 times, though it was gratifying to see, among the thousands of replies, some unprintable ones pointing out how smug and insufferable the underlying message was.

Clarkson partly does it to annoy people, but there are plenty of others doing it in earnest. It's particularly galling when it follows months of growing panic in which young people are nagged repeatedly that nothing is more important than the Leaving Cert, and that they should forgo sleep, leisure, friends and mental health in the quest for maximum points. Suddenly on the day, everyone's telling them: "Feck it, lads, you'll be grand. You have your whole lives ahead of youse"

Why not tell them this in the run-up to the exam? Because they fear students won't work as hard, that's why, and then they might fail, and failing does matters, however much we insist it doesn't. It needn't be the end of the world.

As always this year, there were the usual slew of stories about previous students who didn't get their first CAO choice but found it all worked out for the best anyway.

There's no point telling young people that Leaving Cert results don't matter. They don't live under a rock. They know that they do. When the top university courses are dominated by people from a few fee-paying schools, there's no point telling everyone that they can make it in life whatever happens. Social mobility can be hard to achieve. Good exam results level up the playing field a little.

The best way to help for anyone who's not involved in the annual circus that is the Leaving Cert results is probably to shut up and leave the students and their families to process in their own way. It's not about us, our memories, or our unwanted efforts at amateur counselling. It's about them.

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