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From Paralympians to mature students - Leaving Cert students come from all walks of life

TheJournal.ie spoke to four Leaving Cert students in the countdown to the results.

Image: Sam Boal via Rolling News

THOUSANDS OF STUDENTS across Ireland are anxiously awaiting the release of the Leaving Certificate results on 16 August.

Figures from the State Examinations Commission show that just under 56,000 students sat the Leaving Cert exams this summer.

While most of those students come from regular schooling environments which have a sole focus on the State exam curriculum, each one of them comes from a different background and has a story to tell about their experience of the year.

And then there are those who took their seats on 7 June after fielding various other trials in life.

From Paralympians to mature students, TheJournal.ie spoke to five individuals who sat the 2017 Leaving Cert and asked them about their experience, thoughts on the impending results and their hopes for the future.

Noelle Lenihan – 18 – Hazelwood College, Cork

Noelle Source: Paralympics Ireland

Noelle Lenihan had more on her agenda this year than the average Leaving Cert student. She has cerebral palsy and is an Irish Paralympic discus thrower.

She won a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Paralympics and just a week before the Leaving Cert began, she won three gold medals at the Paris World Para Athletics Grand Prix.

From Milford in Cork, Lenihan sat her exams in Hazelwood College.

“Basically, I just had a plan and I stuck to it so I was able to get both things done and both things done well,” she told TheJournal.ie. 

“It was tough, but I just got on with it.

Obviously, there was a lot to do so I was constantly on my toes for months. Doing one or the other just wasn’t an option.

Lenihan had to travel on a number of occasions during the academic year, but she said that her school was accommodating to her sporting needs.

“Whenever I came back they caught up with me immediately, so that was amazing,” she said.

Lenihan told TheJournal.ie that she plans to separate her sporting life and education, hoping to eventually work in the field of criminology.

“Because my life is so full of sport at the moment, I want to try to keep that as sport and keep it there. I’m hopefully going to do an Arts course in Maynooth University and do criminology afterwards.”

CAO points for that course were 330 in 2016.

Boris Iduhayemeza – Douglas Community School, Cork

shutterstock_563480335 File photo Source: Surachet Suwannarat via Shutterstock

Boris Iduhayemeza came to Ireland in 2013 to escape his life in Rwanda. He began his life in Ireland in Direct Provision accommodation, where he still resides.

Iduhayemeza told TheJournal.ie that he had hoped to immediately return to education when he settled into Cork but found it difficult at first. 

However, Nasc – an organisation that works to “link migrants and ethnic minorities to their rights” – teamed up with Iduhayemeza and enrolled him in Douglas Community School in Cork in 2014.

“I tried to get into school… It was kind of hard but Nasc helped me. They’ve been really helpful, they enrolled me into school, they got my books and my uniform,” he said.

He said that settling into the Leaving Cert curriculum was difficult at first because his English was still weak. He also had to start studying some topics he had never done before.

“Some subjects were pretty hard but overall I think it went ok,” he said.

Iduhayemeza told TheJournal.ie that he hopes to receive an offer from UCC to study chemical engineering.

“I love chemistry, physics and maths so it’s something I would love to start a career in.”

CAO points for that course were 490 in 2016.

Nicholas Culligan – 18 – Donabate Community College, Dublin

Gala Source: Nicholas Culligan

Nicholas Culligan took on the role of a Foróige – the National Youth Development Organisation – director on the 8 May, just one month before his Leaving Cert.

Culligan had been a member of Foróige for a number of years but made the decision to run for the position in May because “it was [his] last chance”. Once members hit 18 they’re no longer affiliated with the organisation.

“I was faced with a full dilemma,” Culligan told TheJournal.ie. 

You have the Leaving Cert which is two weeks, there are results but you’re going to leave it in the dirt eventually. Then, I was faced with the role of being a director of a national organisation and I had priorities there.

In the weeks surrounding the Leaving Cert, which sees many students put their whole focus on their studies, Culligan had to balance work emails, event planning and over-the-phone meetings, which he said took up hours of his time.

Unlike the other students TheJournal.ie spoke to, Culligan isn’t focused on getting a university place through the CAO system.

He has already secured a place Post-Leaving Certificate course in paramedic studies.

“I haven’t been thinking about the results at all. All I need is five passes. If I get that I’ll be overjoyed, I don’t care about the points because I’m just going to link in with that.”

Patrick Kelly – mid-40s – VTOS, Drogheda, Louth

PastedImage-56795 Source: AONTAS

When people think of Leaving Cert students, late teens in school uniforms come to mind. However, people of all ages sit the exams every year.

Patrick Kelly is the perfect example that age doesn’t define the exam takers.

Kelly had a bad experience in school first-time around – especially in primary school. He went on to fail his Leaving Cert.

“The primary school teacher I had… instead of helping, he did the opposite. It set my English up for failure nearly the whole way through school,” he told TheJournal.ie. 

After school, Kelly went on to work as a plumber for a number of years but he was left unemployed in 2008. He then visited the adult guidance service in his local Education and Training Board to get some advice on what to do next.

“I told them that my English was poor and they advised me to do basic English and maths first. I wasn’t quite as bad as I thought I was,” he said.

Kelly sat the Junior Certificate English exam in 2016 and got a B grade. From there, he decided to do the Leaving Cert this year.

“The exams themselves, I found them tough enough. You can do your Christmas exams and your mocks but on the day the pressure is on,” he said.

Kelly has applied for a place in Dundalk Institute of Technology to study Engineering through the CAO.

Advising other adults considering returning to education, Kelly said:

“The steps into the school are the hardest and it’s a matter of just making the effort and walking in the door because you’ll get all the help you need. They’re fantastic people.”

Anna Gallagher – 18 – St Wolstan’s Community School, Kildare

received_1052924341444405 Source: Anna Gallagher

Having an extracurricular activity or hobby to focus on throughout exam years is vital for a lot of students. Playing camogie for both Celbridge GAA and the Kildare minor team, Anna Gallagher saw sport as a stress-reliever.

Gallagher told TheJournal.ie that she spent up to six hours a week training or playing matches, and used it as a way to clear her mind.

“If I did stop playing then I would’ve been sitting at home and not studying, wanting to be out on the pitch,” Gallagher said.

Whenever Gallagher had a training session in the evening, she said it helped her to focus on getting her homework and study finished in the time-space between the end of school and when she had to head out.

“It was only those five or six hours a week and I had the rest of the week to study then. If I had training in the evening I knew I had to put the hours of study in so I could go,” she said.

She told TheJournal.ie that she hopes to secure a place in the Arts course at Maynooth University, studying Geography and Spanish.

CAO points for that course were 330 in 2016.

The Leaving Cert results are set to be handed out from 9am onwards and available online from 12 noon on Wednesday 16 August. 

Read:  Received a CAO offer today? Here’s what you need to know

More: Investigation launched after Leaving Cert paper hits social media less than an hour after exam began

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