Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Speech to Greenhills College Graduation

Apologies for being so quiet on the blog over the last few weeks and months. It's not been high on the priorities but as soon as a new dermotlooney.com site is up and running, a blog feature will be an integral part.

I was honoured to have been asked to speak to the 6th year students of my former school, Greenhills College, at their graduation in "The Comp" tonight. I have served as Chairperson of the Greenhills College Board of Management for two years now and am constantly inspired by the efforts of the staff and the decency of the students. Tonight's group were no different - by all accounts a great bunch of lads, generated a fantastic feel-good atmosphere in the room. Congrats to all involved and good luck to the lads in their exams.

Find below a copy of my written speech as requested on Twitter - although the final, delivered version differed somewhat. I have put italics around a couple of lines which weren't delivered but were written anyway.

Speech to Greenhills College Graduation, Tuesday May 24th 2011

A chairde,

Is mór an ónóir dom a bheith anseo mar iar-dhalta agus mar Cathaoirleach an Bhord Bhainistíochta Choláiste na Cnoc nGlas. Go raibh míle maith agaibh as ucht an cuireadh chuig an Searmanas seo. Bíonn sé i gcónaí deas tagann ar ais ar an halla seo, ina bhfuil a lán cuimhní dearfach agamsa, go háirithe ar oíche speisialta ar nós anocht.

It’s a huge honour to have been asked to speak to the graduating students of Greenhills College tonight. I’m proud to do so not just as Chairperson of the Board of Management here at the Comp, but as a past pupil too in the Class of ’01.

Since then I’ve had something of an interesting decade. I studied Social Policy, Politics and Sociology as part of a Social Science Degree in UCD. I covered the League of Ireland as a football journalist for a while before realising that I could never be impartial about my beloved St Patrick’s Athletic. I busked at night in Temple Bar for a while before realising that there’s only so many times you can belt out Wonderwall before wrecking the heads of the residents who live there. I dressed up as an elf for a children’s Christmas show but the kids were frightened by the fact that Santa was half the size of one of his helpers.

I tried my hands at a few jobs but only later on did I decide on a career – and so, six years out of Greenhills College, I studied for a postgrad in primary teaching and am now finishing my third year as a teacher. It’s a job I love but it seemed to take me a long time to realise it. For those of you unsure about your career path, don’t worry.

To paraphrase a song that was popular “back in my day” - don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you wanna do with your life; the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 18 what they wanted to do with their lives; some of the most interesting 30 and 40 year olds I know still don’t.

Somewhere along the line, I got involved in politics. Greenhills College and this community always inspired a message of social justice and equality. That led me to want to speak up for my community, and in particular for those whose voices are rarely heard, and to stand for election. I’m proud to represent our community on the County Council and to sit on the VEC – and through that, be involved again in this college, being able to give something back to a place and to people from whom I gained so much.

Greenhills College is 40 years old. It is a credit to the staff of this college that thousands of young men have been educated in an institution that is at the very heart of the community of Greenhills. If ever anyone challenges public servants about flexibility and transformation, I point them to the teaching staff of Greenhills College who have coped with roles between traditional Junior and Senior Cycle, LCA, LCVP, Special Needs Teaching, PLC and further education. I'm honoured to serve on a Board of Management of such a school and would like you all to give a bualadh bos in recognition of the staff, led by Principal JJ Walsh.

Ten years ago, I sat out there, watching some other past-pupil of the time – watching, but not really listening. No doubt whoever it was was more noteworthy than me, but regardless, at the time, I, like most of you now, just wanted to get the grad over with and the session begun.

We couldn’t wait to go out on the town, couldn’t wait to make our mark on the world – couldn’t wait to grow up. But now, ten years on, and us grown mostly up - and sometimes out – marriages left, right and centre, kids at many of our feet, jobs and no jobs to deal with – it’s the Class of 2011 that most of the Class of 01 feel most jealous of.

Not that it’s easy for you. You’ve come through what I hope have been five enjoyable years at Greenhills College. But I know for many of you not all of your time has been easy. Be it problems at home, issues with teachers, difficulties with classmates – I know it hasn’t been plain sailing.

Graduation night isn’t a night for regrets. It’s the night where you celebrate overcoming those difficulties – the nights when you kept going on a project when it would have been easier to give up, the mornings when putting your head under the duvet would have been an easier option than facing what was ahead in school.

But Grad night can be a night when you can put some of your regrets to bed. Where you can take a moment to shake hands with that chap who used to get on your nerves, but who you now realise is alright, actually. Where you can take a moment to say a genuine word of thanks to a teacher who you might not have always seen eye to eye with, but who you now know is alright, actually. Grad night is the night for you to thank your mates for being mates, your school community for bringing you through, and your family for being there.

Many of you will be feeling the pressure ahead of the Leaving Cert. Realise that the next few weeks will be tough, but the worst is over. Do all you can to ensure you’ve no regrets at the end of your exams. In the words of the motto that once upon a time adorned our homework journals here at the Comp, be the best that you can be, do the best that you can do.

What you have learned here is so much more than the subjects you are taking in exam form next month. Greenhills College aims for something different than what Pádraig Pearse knew as an academic 'murder machine.' The young men who graduate from the Comp come from a system much more along the lines of Martin Luther King’s famous line about the goal of true education – intelligence plus character.

You graduate into an unsure future. Many of you will find work or attend third-level and PLC courses – but it’s despicable that those who have gone before you have now burdened your generation with scandalous levels of unemployment and forced emigration. I really wish you could all stay and help rebuild this society in the coming decade, so that one or more of you can stand in front of the Class of ’21 and tell them how you did it. Some of you may leave us for warmer shores but we know how much easier staying in touch is, and we know that you will be back.

Your schooling ends here, but your education is only beginning. WB Yeats, a poet who many of you will have studied, put it right when he said;

"Education is not the filling of a pail; but the lighting of a fire."

May all of your flames burn on.