A year ago today was my graduation from Loreto secondary school. As an annual tradition, the song “Feet of a Dancer” written by Charlie McGettigon is played over the intercom all over the school for the sixth years. Because it was also a convent school, we had a graduation mass, where we learned the song.
My time at Loreto was mostly positive, but I had some bad times. I wanted to go there since I was 10 years old (four years before I became a student there). Having no distinct talents or achievements of my own, I thought secondary school would be a good start to get some.
First year was an awkward time for me. I was socially awkward. I learned I was autistic the year before. I was a bit chubbier, had acne on my face, didn’t own a good straightener, didn’t wear makeup every day. I preferred The Beatles over Beyonce. I was bullied for being autistic when I was 6 and I didn’t want to bullied again (I still don’t). I didn’t go to the discos to “meet” boys. I tended to express my anger openly if something or someone was bothering me. I was afraid of EVERYONE. I told very few people about it, for fear of bad reaction. I remember my first day of school. My mam drove me in. We gathered in the canteen. I met my two friends from primary school. I met a Polish girl who had no English. I tired to explain how to find her class by reading her name on the door. We were called to our classrooms and she followed me. I was assigned my seat (which was in alphabetical order) and met my first friend. A Chinese girl with a bubbly personality and a smart cookie. We spent the afternoon with our youth leaders who were assigned to us. One of them, I ended up getting to know her through volunteering and other family connections. I struggled with making friends in the first few weeks, until a girl invited me to sit with her. She was and still is the smartest lady I ever met, with a love for rugby and chocolate. Sitting next to her was a girl I saw before through our confirmation. She sang in it and we bonded over sarcasm (for someone with problems reading social cues, I learned how to read sarcasm from her). I met another girl in my class. She had a disability too, though I didn’t always see eye to eye with her at first. My friends from primary school also became friends with my friends which brought us together. As the year progressed, I became more confident after joining the basketball team and coming second from a talent show after reciting a poem. I came out to my class about my autism, and even agreed to make a speech about my past for CSPE. It went well and people were accepting.
In second year, I took part Gaisce for a bronze medal. I did volunteering with disabled people in the sports hall every Saturday, learned how to play guitar (which I started February of first year) and we did training exercises at the gym in the sports hall. Two of my friends did it too and I made friends with the Gaisce coaches including an SNA who’s the nicest and bravest lady I ever met, a resource teacher who was good at art, and an eccentric nun who was so cool and knew a lot about social justice. I was more confident, though I did struggle with getting along with some people at times. I also joined badminton. I kept on French, Home Ec, Business, Science, Irish, English, Maths, Geography and History. I bonded with my cooking partner and I developed a skill and love for cross-stitching and cooking. The Gaisce trip to Kerry was a great experience and I knew I wanted to do Gaisce again.
Third year was stressful because of the Junior Cert. However I was getting along great with the people in my year. No problems at all. I did clash with a teacher because I was not satisfied with the class progression. The nun I mentioned earlier became my favourite person in the world and my confidant for my stress. She taught me a lot of important lessons including “Is there fire? Is there blood?” which I still use to this day. I was devastated when I learned she was moving away. But we gave her a good send-off. Luckily my Junior Cert went fine after months of grinds for Irish and Maths. (Where I almost failed both during the mocks)
My fourth year was Transition Year. That was my favourite year in my time of school. It was the happiest time in my teenage years. I went to Rome on my school tour and it was one of the best trips ever. I did Silver Gaisce like I wanted to. I did badminton and swimming for physical, I volunteered with autistic kids for volunteering, and I learned Mandarin Chinese for my skill (I don’t remember much now sadly). I was part of the Young Social Innovators in school and we did a project on homophobia in schools. We made it to the Dublin showcase and I pretended to be a lesbian for a five minute skit. We also had the TY trip to Kerry where we went hiking and kayaking. That was fun, until I cut my hand after a bad fall. I took many opportunities that year and I had so much fun (although maths was SO BORING). That year gave me the most progress as person and I felt much more confident.
Fifth year was the start of the Leaving Cert course. I kept on Irish, English, Maths, French, Business, Biology, Geography. All higher level except maths. It wasn’t easy, but I got through it. I got to know more people because of the third years who skipped TY. I did basketball for the last time that year, and it was my best. I became a belly dancer for a year, which was a fun distraction from school. I finally got to do my Gaisce trip where I went hiking and kayaking with the TYs (why I wasn’t allowed to do it when I was in TY still mystifies me to this day). I rediscovered my love for English with the help of a great teacher, and I realised I wanted to study it in college, which was why I chose arts.
Sixth year was my final year. In terms of my friends and socialising, it was my best year yet. In terms of the Leaving Cert and my relationship with some authority figures, it was hell. I got in trouble many times due to stress-induced anger. At the time, I couldn’t wait to see the back of them. My solaces were my crush on Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch, 18th birthday parties, and studying at Fermoy Education Centre, because I was never judged by the people in charge. I paid my fee, did my work and it was peaceful. I even got to eat at a place nearby called Café Mocha, which did great Chicken & Relish wraps with tea every Saturday while reading my John Green books. I applied to UCC in the CAO and was excited about the future. I didn’t care what job I had, what my subjects in arts were, or even if I made friends or not in college, I knew I would be happy. Although I’d miss some things. I’d miss my school friends, the general peaceful atmosphere of my peers, some of my favourite teachers. I loved the Leaving Cert sleepover where our year raised €2000 for cancer research and hospice care. I graduated on May 22nd 2013, where we went to Youghal beach and then had our mass. I got to bring the Bible up to the altar. My parents were there and I felt proud that I got through school in one piece. My classmates and I partied into the night after the mass at the pub. I got through the Leaving Cert in one piece and finished on June 13th 2013.
One year later, I reflect on whether or not school has served me well. Sometimes I think “God damn those exams didn’t reflect me as a person! Screw the exams! Screw the people who gave me hell! College is more relevant and served me better!” In some cases, college did serve me very well. However, this confidence that increased in my first year in college wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t have the previous confidence built up from school. Transition Year helped me more ready and mature for college. School helped realise what I wanted to be in life (and suited me best) through English class. I learned more social issues, business and geography which served me well in Sociology. Renaissance History served me well in English. TY Classical Studies served me well in Greek & Roman Civilisation. Home Ec taught me how to cook, which was great for living away from home. The most important thing I learned from school is that if you believe in yourself, you can achieve anything.