Why is it that we worry so much about the Leaving Cert?
Are we right to stress out about the Leaving Cert, to the point where we're still having nightmares years, even decades, later?
It's that time of year again. Your entire newsfeed on Twitter is full of disingenuous politicians wishing Leaving Cert students well, or full of successful people informing you that they didn't do well in their exams, and just LOOK AT THEM NOW.
As amusing as these good luck messages are (because every teenager is definitely turning to the former Minister for Business, Enterprise, and Innovation for words of encouragement on their big day), they do probably all come from a good place.
They come from an adult who probably still has nightmares about sleeping through a Leaving Cert exam, or opening up the question booklet and not understanding a word.
It comes from a societal belief that the Leaving Cert is the most important thing in the world.
I mean, just look at this tweet from Fianna Fáil TD Eugene Murphy, and how much it clearly means to him:
GOOD WISH 2 ALL OF U CHECKING OUT UR LEAVING CERT RESULTS TODAY IF YOU DO WELL PLEASE THINK OF A RELATION OR FRIEND WHO MAY B DISAPPOINTED WITH TH OUTCOME DO NOT LEAVE THEM BEHIND WITH TH EXCITEMENT.YOUNG PEOPLE AR SO GOOD LOOKING OUT FOR 1 ANOTHER I KNOW 2DAY WIL B NO DIFFERENT
— Senator Eugene Murphy (@SenatorEMurphy) August 13, 2019
Quick aside - someone should probably tell Eugene to throw a full stop in where he can, to avoid typing phrases like "YOUNG PEOPLE AR SO GOOD LOOKING" in all caps, but his heart was definitely in the right place.
It all begs the question, why the hell do we, as an entire country, get so damn worked up over the whole thing?
This writer still has nightmares about the JUNIOR CERT, which is about as significant as the spelling tests you used to take at the end of the week in primary school.
We are literally obsessed with the entire thing.
It's largely because you spend your entire secondary school life building up to this moment, this climax, and you feel as though not doing well enough would mean that you've wasted your time and effort.
And how could you ever live up to expectations that are being set for you for almost six years?
The media has a part to play in this whole thing as well. If a question that was unexpected shows up on English Paper 2, it's national news. That isn't normal lads, but in Ireland it feels like it is.
— JOE.ie (@JOEdotie) August 13, 2019
It's almost as strange as the English poetry section turning into this strange guessing game where you go in hoping to get to write about the poet you like, and being punished by the all-seeing-all-knowing State Examinations Commission.
There shouldn't ever be so much pressure put on something that could be completely undone by having a bad day. Bad days happen. And they are not allowed for by the Leaving Cert.
Then when you get your results, when you think it's finally all over, you have to make a decision that results in having to commit to the one college course for up to five years. Lovely.
Add all of these things together, and you've got a recipe for disaster for thousands of students every year.
In fairness, improvements are being made. Students who suffer bereavement during Leaving Cert exams will finally be able to take time out and then sit alternative papers in July, rather than just being forced to take the exam in an unfit state, or miss out entirely.
But that does kind of seem like very bottom of the barrel stuff. Good news everyone! You are now able to repeat your exams if a loved one dies the day before you were due to start. Why did it take until 2019 for this to be introduced?
As you can imagine, the level of emphasis we place on the Leaving Cert has a negative affect on a lot of students.
Speaking to JOE, Niall Mulligan, Executive Director for Samaritans Ireland, said exam stress can have a seriously negative influence on the mental health of young people, saying: "Teenagers and parents need to remember that while exam results are important, it is equally important to support those who are struggling to cope with the pressure or who are unhappy with their achievements.
"Many young people put themselves under enormous pressure to achieve well, and if they don’t get the points they hoped for their mental health may suffer.
"We urge them, and parents and carers, to try and keep things in perspective and look after their wellbeing during this time."
The underlying message we can all take from the big LC is that it definitely does matter, but nowhere near as much as anyone else says. That it's made to seem like the biggest and most important day of your life, and that it's something you will care about forever, is ridiculous and damaging.
But it matters. More than it should, mind you, but it matters. So offering help to the teenagers who feel like their world has collapsed because they have gotten 10 points fewer than they needed matters more.
Regardless of how you treat the Leaving Cert, those who are actually going through the whole thing are stressed out to the maximum, so try and help in any way you can.
If they seem happy with their results, don't belittle them. If they seem upset, comfort them.
And a quick message to those of you could be disappointed, on results night everyone on earth will ask you: "Well, how'd you do?". Believe us when we say that this will probably be the last time that anyone asks you that question; Leaving Cert points isn't likely to be a conversation starter over a pint in a few years' time.
And if you are disappointed with how you do, one day, hopefully you will be the adult pointlessly tweeting that you did poorly all those years ago, and JUST LOOK AT YOU KNOW.
Finally, when it comes to this year's Leaving Cert results, we'll let Frankie Boyle play us out on a particularly harrowing note:
If you didn't get the exam results you wanted, it's worth remembering that life on Earth will soon be over
— Frankie Boyle (@frankieboyle) August 6, 2019
The only guidance you needed to hear on a day like today.