I have a recurring dream, it centres itself around my leaving cert. I find myself sitting my history exam and not having a clue of any of the answers. I wake up anxious but with a great sense of relief. The Leaving Cert is never easy, but this year, it has been most challenging.
The celebrated adventurer and chief scout Bear Grylls was asked in an interview where did he find the courage, strength, resilience to survive in inhospitable deserts, mountains and castaway islands. His response was simple “Any strength I have comes from when I am on my own, on my knees, it comes from taking time to be still with God”.
This week over 60,000 students will receive their leaving certificate results. I suggest that no results, on a piece of paper, can ever determine or define the fantastic unique gifts and talents that every young person has in abundance. To measure kindness, compassion, optimism, energy, humour, is far more important. Humbly I find young people fantastic and in living with this pandemic, life has been really challenging for them.
This year’s leaving cert students have navigated a very different last term, with its palpable loss of iconic moments that can never be restored or regained. Let no one ever say “sure you’re the class of 2020, you’ve had it easy” because they haven’t. So much, too much has been asked of them in recent months as they were sommersaulted from one possible scenario to another.
There were strong voices on either side of the argument. Sitting ‘State Exams’ versus being awarded ‘Predictive Grades’. These students were the ones caught up in the middle. Now a little distance from that decision, made in the best interests of public safety, still carry your worries, your losses, your concerns.
The Leaving Cert is a Rite of Passage. It’s more than a school, it’s the spirit. It’s more than a class, it’s the memories. It’s more than a team, it’s the bonding. As the children’s author Lorraine Marwood, Australian author and poet, describes it so beautifully in her novel ‘Leave Taking”. It tells the story of a family who have decided to leave their farm after the death of their little daughter Leah from cancer. Her older brother Toby knows nowhere else to call his home; he spends the day with his dog Trigger saying goodbye to all the places, all the things, all the little memories that has made the farm his home. No matter what age we are, endings are as important as beginnings.
This generation is more conscious and environmentally attuned to climate change and climate justice than any previous one. I think of the Friday School Strike for Climate initiative and its founder Greta Thunberg, the same age as yourselves. You must now be the leaders in this movement and the prophet Micah reminds us how we protect our environment and how we care for one another by acting justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly with your God.
During his papacy Pope Francis has demonstrated his capacity to engage with young people. He clearly understands the pressures young people are under today, the challenges they experience, and their fears. At the Vigil of World Youth Day in Krakow in 2016 the Pope explained how fear leads to “the feeling of being closed in on oneself, trapped”. He challenged the 1.6 million young pilgrims present there to go back home and make a difference, remarking that “Jesus is inviting you, calling you, to leave your mark on life, to leave a mark on history, your own and that of many others as well.” Recently Pope Francis speaking about our faith said, “Jesus keeps knocking on our doors, the doors of our lives. He doesn’t do this by magic, with special effects, with flashing lights and fireworks. Jesus keeps knocking on our door in the faces of our brothers and sisters, in the faces of our neighbours, in the faces of those at our side.” May the good Lord bless all our young people at this time, especially those receiving their leaving Cert results this week.