Making a life past the Leaving Cert

Gráinne talks about why the Leaving Cert isn’t the be-all and end-all like people think

Written by Grainne Jones


The Leaving Certificate. For the past two years your teachers have been telling you how important the Leaving Cert is for your future, and how you couldn’t possibly move on in life without fantastic results, but is that really true? Is the Leaving Cert really as important as people say it is, or can you still succeed without good results?

The Leaving Cert exams can be daunting; you’ve studied (or maybe not studied) for so long, and it all comes down to how you perform on one day. Is that fair? Not really. Will your life be ruined if you don’t do well? Definitely not.

Years ago many people didn’t stay in school past 14 or so because they had to go to work to help the family. Did those people survive and manage to get good jobs as adults? Yes they did. My grandfather never completed education and managed to run his own business until retirement; he kept a roof over his family’s head and successfully raised two children.

My father didn’t go to university. He didn’t do well in school – at all (sorry dad). He chose to do apprenticeships instead of third level education. He has a great job, paid off a mortgage, has kept three (now adult) kids very well looked after, and is leading a fantastic life.

Where did we get the idea that without a great Leaving Cert, the world would explode? When did it become a thing that unless you do amazingly in school and academics, your life will be terrible? Who made it a thing that we must go straight into university, pick one degree that we’ll work with for the rest of our lives, and that’s that?

I did my Leaving Cert in 2014. I was extremely ill at the time and had spent most of 5th and 6th year in and out of hospitals, so I missed a lot of school. I didn’t get the results that were expected of me. I managed to get into university, but within about eight weeks I had dropped out. Was I a failure? No. But did I think – because of what everyone had said – that my life was over and I’d never amount to anything? Yes.

I found another way. I started my first small business, which admittedly failed, but then I started another one – a successful one. I taught myself that I was worth something, no matter what society said. I did end up going back to university, to a different course, and will graduate this year – but that’s not what has kept me going since leaving secondary school. Feeling like I have accomplished something is what kept me going.

The Leaving Certificate isn’t the be-all and end-all. You are young. You have your whole life ahead of you. Have dreams, make mistakes, try something new no matter how silly you think it is. Most importantly, believe in yourself, because you – and only you – know what is truly the right option for your own life. You can do this.

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