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Exam diary: Whatever direction we go after the Leaving, it will be forward

Posted by Francis O' Toole on June 2, 2015

Dearbhail Clarke
Dearbhail Clarke

Have you ever seen a sand mandala? They are an odd and brilliant part of Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Teams of monks spend days upon days pouring and scraping coloured sand into intricate patterns with fine tools. The finished product seems wholly beyond human hands: painstakingly geometric, vibrantly coloured and intensely detailed.

Then, when everyone has oohed and aahed sufficiently, the monks take out paintbrushes and methodically sweep the entire thing away. Just like that. No reservations.

Now, if you think the Leaving Cert stress has clearly broken me, leaving only a rambling hippie behind, you’re definitely right.

Over the weekend, my grinds teacher refused to be paid, instead insisting that I spend the money on a pre-exam massage. I’m not sure which that attests to more: her generosity, or my noticeable neuroticism.

Bear with me, however. Here is my sand mandala: the entirety of the Leaving Cert curriculum. Everything is in there: every biology diagram I’ve carefully coloured in, every overdue essay I’ve scribbled in the bathrooms. Instead of Buddhist deities, I have my favourite three poets inscribed in the centre. (All hail Ní Chuilleanáin!)

I’ve spent years making this mandala, and you’ve spent years making yours. Each one is peppered with similar details: sleepless nights, caffeine addictions and more study notes than sense.

Each one is going to be placed under the scrutiny of our stiff, unforgiving and incredibly bored gods – the examiners. Surely this means that our mandalas have some power over us.

Here’s the beauty of it: they don’t. Tomorrow, we’re going to pick up our brushes and sweep a broad stroke of sand away. When we do, a whole chunk of anxieties will be carried with it. Questions like ‘will I get everything done in time?’ and ‘what makes a good short story?’ and ‘how on earth do you recognise the aesthetic use of language?’ will be answered, and silenced forever.

Then we’ll make another sweep, and another, like mad artists on a cathartic rampage.

We’ll swiftly break down the stress and toil of these two years and forget everything that seemed so important to us then.

Every seanfhocal and theorem and definition will be a distant nightmare, never to be repeated. Unless you are repeating, in which case: I am so sorry.

When we reach the end, which is so tantalizingly close, we will be blank slates again. We’ll drift about trying to remember our personalities and pastimes. We’ll go staggering into a brave new world, young and squeaky clean once more. Then we’ll grow, finally heading in the direction we want to go. Whichever way that is, it’s forward.

That’s the mantra I’m keeping in my head for the next few weeks. Any way is forward. The Leaving Cert has the tendency to feel like the end of the world, when it’s really just the gateway to a brighter chapter.

Good luck, my friends.

As Iago, the best role model on the entire English course, once said: “What you know, you know. /From this time forth I never will speak word.”

Dearbháil Clarke is a pupil at Mean Scoil Mhuire, Convent Road, Longford. She is the Irish Independent’s Leaving Certificate 2015 exam diarist and will write a daily account of her experiences.

Irish Independent

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