President Michael D. Higgins issues special message for third level students.

Déa 10th Nol, 2020 | 18:00

Message from President Michael D. Higgins to Third-Level Students

As Christmas approaches, the particular circumstances that Covid-19 has created for students this year has reminded me of both my own experience as a student and my time as a University teacher. The first term for students like myself, and so many others in the 1960s who were from backgrounds that had no experience of third-level or, in some cases, second-level education on the part of the parents, was particularly challenging. 

The first term, I realised, was a real challenge. The end of the first term, I noted from the tutorials and lectures I was giving as a young lecturer, was a crucial time. Social anxiety is common and natural. It takes time to settle in and be comfortable with your new environment, to make new friends among a community of peers, to connect with each other, to study together, perhaps join societies, and enjoy all the non-curricular activities – the great fun that is intrinsic to being a third-level student.

Yes, you are now independent, but you’re also responsible for yourself – and that means food, bills, study and finding time to socialise. This is all the more challenging now given the different routes into university.

The transition to third level takes time. So take time now to reflect on this and respect your own wisdom and resolve. Self-care is important: eat well, exercise, be among nature when you can, even if just for a walk. Keep up the sport you did in school. Take a few moments now and again to self-reflect, take stock.

This year is particularly challenging given the circumstances of the Leaving Certificate occasioned by Covid-19.  Then, too, the experience of the first term will have been totally changed with the absence of the collective experience of learning. In my own time, some of us even studied together; participating and speaking at societies, such as the debating societies, be it in English or Irish. They were for us as important as the lectures.

You, in your special circumstances created by COVID-19, are challenged more than others who have had to overcome the hurdle of the first term. I want you to know that, as President, I am aware of these challenges and that you are much valued by those who care for you.  Facing difficulties in exceptionally challenging circumstances requires support from family, friends, your tutors and lecturers and from all of us in the wider society.

While now, of course, there are technological capacities that did not exist when I was a student or a lecturer, they cannot ever fully replicate the experience of the first year at third level that you may have anticipated. I am very well aware, too, as President, that such technological capacities are not available to all for a multitude of reasons. There are geographical, social, economic, and affordability issues that exacerbate the existing inequalities of access and participation.

I am appealing to all third-level colleges to do their best, and I know they are anxious to do so, to address these issues by enabling parts of courses to be transferable to students without the technological means, to innovate with new forms of contact and encouragement, and that you continue to work with great kindness and generosity.

I wish to pay tribute, if I may, to the extraordinary collective endeavour from the staff and management in third-level institutions who have gone above and beyond the call of duty this year to change how we teach and how they support our students. It has been a momentous transition at very short notice, only made possible by the extraordinary effort, commitment, goodwill, know-how, creativity and co-operation of all staff.

To students, and particularly first-year students, may I say I will be thinking of you now, and after the Christmas Break and in the New Year. I pay tribute to you all for the special effort you have been asked to make.

Do please encourage and watch out for each other now and beyond Covid-19. I hope, too, that the efforts weak or strong that you have been making and will continue to make means that beyond COVID-19 you will have an educational and social experience all the richer in the future.

May I wish you all a happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year.

Bain taitneamh as. Agus coinnígí bhur misneach agus beir beannacht.