For maybe 10 years after the age of 18 I had a regular recurring dream. In this dream I would wake up suddenly, saying to myself ‘Oh my God, it’s April and I have the Leaving Cert in June and I haven’t started studying for anything yet!’.  This is how deeply the scars of that period in my life were etched into my sub-conscious.

I have a daughter doing the Leaving Cert this summer. She started it last week in fact, with the oral Irish exam and music practical. A friend had told me earlier in the year that my job as a parent of a leaving cert candidate was simple: keep the rest of the household quiet and the fridge full. (His child had been a boy, so perhaps the fridge part was gender-specific(!) but the advice about minimising overall noise and disruption I can definitely relate to).

I know that this is the start of possibly the most stressful exam period in a person’s life. There may well be more difficult exams at some stage, but the Leaving Cert is the first major milestone. Up until this point I have been telling my daughter with every exam and test that she needn’t be concerned, as the only meaningful exam is the Leaving Cert. Now that she’s arrived at the real thing, I wonder did I do her no favours by putting all the emphasis on the next couple of months?

The Leaving Cert is a right of passage that almost all Irish children go through – it is stressful and can cause huge anxiety as a test of knowledge and ability, but I think there is more to it than this. For a great many young people, it is also a gateway leading into adulthood and independence. I think perhaps that this is why it is so significant.

To those young people starting parts of the Leaving Cert around now, and to their parents and families over the next few months – good luck, keep calm, and whatever happens, remember the old Persian proverb: ‘This too shall pass’.

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