CWC Union Day Speech
Congratulations to all of you on graduating today. 6 years ago, this day must have felt like it would never come! I graduated 13 years ago, in 2004, and although that may seem like a lifetime ago to some of you, to me, it feels like yesterday. I remember sitting where you are now, hoping the President of the Union’s speech would be super quick, so I could go and eat and have one or two drinks!
So I’m not going to keep you long, but I would like to share 3 things with you. Just 3 things, that’s it, so stay with me.
In the summer after finishing Clongowes, I became quite disillusioned with what I was going to do next. I put very little effort in to my Leaving Cert and it wasn’t a surprise I didn’t get in to University when the only thing I put on my CAO form was History & Politics in Trinity, which was 560 points.
So as all my friends headed off to college, I was left without much to do. Rather than face up to my immaturity, I decided to go travelling. When I returned, some 12 months later, I was still in the same situation I was in before I left, except my friends were now one year in to college.
I had some tough choices to make. Having spent 6 years in Clongowes, never fulfilling my real potential, I felt like I had to make up for some lost time. When I reflect, my lack of effort in my exams and application for University, was down to a self-consciousness that maths, science or economics didn’t come as easy to me as it did some of my friends. So instead of trying, I gave up.
Boys, if I can give you one piece of advice today; never, ever, give up.
So I decided at the age of 19 that I wasn’t going to go to college and would take to the working world. And given my youth, it was surprising that at the time, I was fully aware of the limitations and stigma that not having a degree would have on my career going forward. But I made a decision, that it would never stand in my way. I knew, I would just have to work harder than anyone else; and I was prepared to do that.
I spent 4 years or so jumping across a few different jobs, until I stumbled upon an industry that just clicked for me. And after two years of working with one of Ireland’s largest recruitment companies, at the age of 25, I decided to set up my own business.
5 years on and a few grey hairs later, I can honestly say it’s the best decision I ever made. There have been plenty of ups and downs, but I get to wake up every day and go in to work to do a job that I love, with people that I love working with. I was never smart enough to be a lawyer or an accountant, but I enjoy dealing with people, and I found a career that I am genuinely passionate about. And when you are passionate about something, you’ll do it to the best of your ability.
And not just in your career, but across all areas of your life. With friends or girlfriends or partners, always follow your heart, not your head. Someone said to me recently; what’s the point in settling, if you’re not happy. And I couldn’t be more true. Keep searching until you find something and someone you love – don’t ever settle. Like all matters of the heart, it will lead you in the right direction.
Each of you are different and have your own unique talents. Don’t feel pressure to be someone you are not. For your future career, find a job that you first and foremost enjoy, and then work like crazy at it. It doesn’t matter what that job is, as long as you enjoy it. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, but you have to find your passion. One thing no one can ever take away from me is my determination to succeed. No one will work harder than me. They may be smarter, but they won’t work harder. And you will have tough days ahead – life can hit you with a sledge hammer sometimes. And I have had many of those days; but stick with it, work hard, don’t lose faith and you’ll get where you want to get to.
My path was an unorthodox one, and I encourage all of you to take your studies seriously. But whenever you find you are doubting yourself, or you unsure about your future; remember, you can be anything you want to be. For all of you here, the possibilities are endless, if you dream big and you want it badly enough.
The second point I want to make is about the Clongowes Union, of which you are all now members. I can recall sitting where you are now in 2004, feeling like I was getting out of prison, and I couldn’t wait to burn it down the driveway. The reality is, you are now part of something special. A Union, a brotherhood, where men look out for each other. You won’t think too much about it now, but in the not too distant future, the Union can be of great benefit to you, so don’t lose touch with it. Whether it’s for work experience, introductions or connections, attending leadership talks, meeting up with old school friends, the Union is there to help you. And if, in the unfortunate situation, any of you or your families fall on hard times, the Benevolent Association (which is called CUBA), will be there for you, to provide financial and emotional support.
When people ask me if they should send their children to Clongowes, without hesitation, I saw yes. For many reasons, like the fantastic teachers here that do some much for the pupils; the great facilities, and living with boys for 6 years who become friends for life. But the resounding reason I say yes is, because of the network and community that you are about to enter in to.
When I sat where you are, I was the most unlikely candidate to become President of the Union. No academic medals in my 6 years in Clongowes, no junior or senior cup appearances, and no honorary titles like year captain, school captain or house leader. But the Clongowes ethos is that all men are equal and we are all given a platform to express ourselves, to be successful, to make a difference. So it doesn’t matter what your success or status as been over the last 6 years, you now have the world at your feet. 4 years ago, I saw all the great things the Union stands for and I wanted to embrace it. I encourage you all to do the same. The Union will ask for nothing in return, only that you are a good influence in society. We have all had privileged upbringings and it’s important that we give back to those who have been less fortunate.
And there will be times, especially over the next 2 or 3 years when you will have decisions to make between right and wrong. And there will be times when the wrong decision feels like the cool thing to do. Do the right thing. You are the future leaders of our society; act like it, and be the person that Clongowes has taught you to be – a man for others.
The third and last thing I want to share with you is about your parents. You may or may not realise, but your parents have all made huge sacrifices to send you to Clongowes; and it’s not something I fully appreciated until a few years after I left. But the sooner you realise and appreciate it; the sooner you will want to repay them. And the only way you can repay them, is to make them proud of you.
My parents made enormous sacrifices to send my 3 brothers and I to Clongowes. And nothing motivates me more to want to make them proud. And when I’m having a bad day or going through a tough time, I remember what my parents have done for me to give me every opportunity in life; and any negative feelings I have turn to determination. Your parents all want the best for you and will stand by you through anything; appreciate them, and make them proud.
So I’m going to leave you now and I want to wish you all the best in your up and coming exams, and more importantly, in the next chapter of your lives. There is so much pressure on young people now to conform to peer pressure and to fit a certain mould. Resist temptation. Be your own man. Don’t wish or pretend to anyone else. Don’t sweat the small things. Laugh as often as possible. And live every day like it’s the last. Because if you do, almost everything, all external expectations, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things will all fall away; because you have nothing to lose.
You are a great group of young men who are now stepping out in to the world. Look out for each other. Support each other. And in all aspects of your life, follow your heart and don’t ever stop dreaming.