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November 7, 2005

-- Journal --

I'm paying the piper after a year of play

By Niamh Ni Mhaoileoin

An announcement rang out over the intercom system: “Could all sixth year students come to the gym for their graduation photos?”

Sitting slumped over Macbeth in my fifth year English class, I silently despaired. It could have been me getting my photo taken. More importantly it could have been me graduating!

At the end of third year, I was presented with a choice. Having completed my Junior Cert exams I could go straight into fifth year and more exams or I could go into fourth year an optional gap year during which you have a more diverse range of classes, do work experience, take part in lots of activities ranging from the interesting to the downright crazy (such as Reiki, a spiritual healing class).

There are no exams and no pressure. To me, a 14-year-old with major state exams looming ominously, it was obviously the better choice.

Truth be told, I did have a pretty great time.

I spent a week in The Irish Times. I took part in several different debating competitions. I was a stagehand for the school concert and could pretend the crowd was cheering for me while I set up microphones.

I went on a really big rollercoaster for the first time in my life. I saw Venice. I got medals, trophies and certificates, I nearly broke my thumb skiing on the beginner slope -- and I realized that carpentry is most certainly not a career option.

So, what’s the problem?

The problem is the here and now.

My happy days of careless abandon are now no more than a seemingly distant memory and I’m back in the grips of Ireland’s exam-driven education system.

Having taken an eight month sabbatical from homework and study, the renewed workload has hit me hard.

I’m slowly learning to resist the temptation to switch on my laptop or pick up my guitar because it will inevitably lead to three hours of blissful procrastination and several very unhappy teachers.

The worst thing about it is this: the people I spent my first three years in school with, some of my closest friends, will soon be leaving school forever to go on to a better place.

Next year, while I sit and stew preparing for the worst exam in my life, they will be enjoying the wonderful world of university: a place of constant parties, cheap student prices and pseudo intellectualism (and maybe the occasional spark of genuine learning).

It’s definitely a long way from uniforms, detentions and things as painfully dictatorial as compulsory classes.

From where I’m standing, two more years of school is almost forever and life after school is but a distant speck, totally invisible to someone as shortsighted as me.

Still, I will get there … someday.


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