THE cancellation of this year’s Leaving Certificate has dominated the news.
But for many sixth year students, their last year of school is about more than just exams. Graduation ceremonies, the debs, holidays abroad... there are many traditions that the class of 2020 are missing out on, and they are still trying to wrap their heads around the abrupt end to their school lives.
“Our last day was the Thursday before St Patrick’s Day,” says Shona O’Sullivan, a sixth year student at Coláiste na Toirbhirte secondary school in Bandon.
“It was weird because a lot of teachers were dead-set that we’d be back, but others were like ‘take home everything and be prepared’.
“I held on to some hope but by the last day I’d packed up most of my locker,” says Shona.
She says that her teachers prepared the class for every possibility, and it started to dawn that there was a chance they mightn’t be going back to school.
“The teachers told us not to believe anything we heard unless it came from them. They encouraged us to keep up with assignments because until that final decision was made, there was still a chance we’d be back. It was a long waiting game.”
Shona says that her friends dreaded the idea of the exams being postponed.
“My least favourite option was that it would be postponed. It was awful, thinking we’d have to revise the same things for another three months.”
Shona says that when the final decision was made, her class was mostly relieved.
“Honestly, we were just like, ‘thank God’. It was a bit frustrating, but it was such a relief when they finally made a decision.”
However, she says that it’s a disappointing end to their school journey.
“I’m more upset that we’re missing out on all these milestones,” says Shona.
“The holiday is a big one. Our whole year was going to Spain for a week after the exams and we spent so long planning it.
“Our debs is postponed until November, but it won’t be the same. It’ll be so cold and dark and a lot of people who are going to college abroad won’t come back.”
Shona says that she doesn’t know if her year will have a night out together again, especially with the cancellation of their graduation, which was meant to take place this week.
“There’s usually big balloons and we were going to get T-shirts made and our music class was meant to perform. It’s just a fun night to celebrate with our families but I don’t know if we’ll have that now.”
Besides milestones such as graduation and the debs, many schools also have their own traditions that have been cancelled.
“Sixth years always play a huge game of dodgeball and the teachers get involved. We also do an Olympics competition where we split our year up into countries and dress up. It’s such a small thing but we watched all the sixth years do it before us,” says Shona.
“You look forward to the end of sixth year so much. My older sister went to my school and I saw her getting to do all of these things. The end of school is about more than just exams, it’s a rite of passage.”
Victoria Bollard is the Head Girl in Kinsale Community School and says that her year is also feeling the strain of missing out on their last school days.
“Our last day was just like any normal day,” Victoria says.
“I really did think we’d be back for the oral exams the week after. I couldn’t imagine them being cancelled, never mind the Leaving Cert.”
Victoria says that she had similar feelings about postponing the exams.
“When they first spoke about predictive grading, I didn’t like the sound of it, but I thought it was much better than postponing. June is the light at the end of the tunnel for so long. It just would have been so hard extending that.”
Many Kinsale students also had their post-exam holidays booked. Victoria and her friends had booked a trip to Greece as soon as the school year began, and already had their debs dresses picked.
“We had a feeling we’d miss out on the holiday early on but it’s still hard. We’d looked forward to it since fifth year.” She says.
An unusual tradition in Kinsale for sixth years is the annual Townie Bogger match, where students living in the town play soccer against those from the countryside. The tradition has been around for years and excited students dressed in costumes usually litter the town on the day.
“We were gutted about Townie Boggers, it’s something you watch every year and look forward to. But they’ve arranged a virtual one and the teachers are trying to reorganise it, Victoria explains.
“They’re rearranging graduation as well. The teachers have really been great, and it’s been just as tough on them. They told us that it wasn’t about sitting exams but celebrating finishing school.”
Victoria says that the hardest part of the abrupt end to school is not being able to say a proper goodbye.
“I wasn’t even wearing my uniform properly on the last day. I had to take the yearbook photo at home and all I was thinking was that I won’t be wearing this again. And we didn’t get to say goodbye to our teachers who’ve taught us for the last six years.
“The debs can be postponed, the holiday can be rebooked, but I think the saddest part is that we won’t be in the school again,” says Victoria.
“The six years flew by and we took it for granted. I was counting down the days until the finish line and then it was cut so short. It’s gutting.”
Likewise, Liadh Hennessy was shocked that her year never returned to school in Maria Immaculata Community College, Dunmanway.
“We were certain we’d be having the exams; we didn’t think this would happen,” she says.
Liadh also summarises the government’s Leaving Cert decision as a relief.
“The predictive grading had to happen. I’m disappointed it was cancelled, but we couldn’t keep going until August. All of this time we were training to peak in June. It was a relief they finally made that decision.”
As for what she’ll miss most now that school is out for good? Her friends, she says.
“Our award ceremony is usually a big occasion, and the debs and graduation. They’re trying to reorganise everything, but I don’t think it’ll be the same.”
“I’m sure I’ll be in contact with my close friends but others not so much, I mightn’t see some of them until Christmas,” Liadh says.
“I love making milestones, like the last lunch together and things like that, but we didn’t even know we were having them at the time.”
Liadh says that one positive is that people are talking online more, but they’re still missing out on a lot.
“We won’t be in the pictures taken every year of the students collecting their results. Instead, we’re always going to be the year that didn’t do the Leaving Cert, which is really sad.”