Shimna OldScholar Joelen Lynch came to present the A level certificates to our students in January 2016

Joeleen's Inspirational Address

Thank you so much for inviting me to speak this evening and to present Shimna’s 2015 GCSE and A-level - very hard earned - Awards.  I began Shimna in 1998 in Year 8, after attending All Children’s Primary School, so it does feel very nostalgic and also a little scary to think I was in all of your positions receiving my A-level Awards just over 10 years ago … which I can still remember very vividly.  

Upon preparing these few words, I have to admit I felt a little self-indulgent, however I think it is a lovely and very worthwhile opportunity to be given the time to reflect on what I have been up to since leaving Shimna and how one opportunity has led quite naturally into another, something that Integrated education and our motto, ‘learning from each other’ has guided me through and I have no doubt it will do the same for you (consciously or subconsciously).  It is also a chance to share my experiences with you which will hopefully inspire and help each of you on your very exciting next steps - on your career choice’s and future professional development down the line. 

Throughout my studies at Shimna I always enjoyed the individual subjects Art and History, so when it came to making the decision of what to study at University, I merged the 2 subjects together and applied for History of Art courses in Ireland, Scotland and England, with the intention of working in Museums and Galleries as a curator, putting exhibitions together.  I also loved the idea of being able to travel and see more of the world, therefore I believed that the curator choice would mean I could potentially travel with work and follow my dream. 

I began studying History of Art at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland back in 2005, the course was a 4 year Masters degree, and during this time I applied for a university exchange opportunity and travelled abroad in my 3rd year to the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada.  The University of Guelph had an equally excellent Art History Department, but where Aberdeen focused on traditional art history (the Renaissance, Baroque, Modernism).  The North American curriculum opened up the contemporary art world, South-American art history and more applied art history courses, like museology.  This opportunity not only enhanced my art history knowledge, it also fed my travel bug, as I had time during and after my studies to travel in Canada and the United States.  I also met and befriended fellow international students from all over the world and Canadian peer’s; many of these friends I still stay in contact with now.  

So despite never having studied History of Art before, I truly enjoyed and loved every minute of my studies both in Scotland and Canada - so for that reason I think it is really important for each of you to identify and follow your interests.  Before graduating from Aberdeen, I researched and discovered a post-graduate degree in Contemporary Curatorial Practice at Falmouth University in Cornwall in the Southwest of England.  It was very appealing given the beautiful coastal landscape in Cornwall similar to my upbringing here in Newcastle surrounded by the sea and the Mournes.  The course was half theory and half practical, as well as, being in one of the leading arts college’s in the UK where I would be surrounded by artists.  On a practical note, it was also a one year intensive MA course and away from London, therefore much more affordable within my budget and timeframe to complete the degree.  

However … I wasn’t quite ready to go straight back into education and had itchy feet again for more travelling.  So before applying for the curating course I worked 3 jobs at home for 6 months to save and be able to fund working and traveling around New Zealand for a year - following the vineyard, kiwi and ski seasons.  This was something I had always wanted to do, particularly for the skiing and mountainous landscape in New Zealand.  I also felt that if I waited it could be something I might never make the time to do again - so would very much encourage each of you to be the ‘doer’, to research, be resourceful and find ways of being able to follow your interests.  

After New Zealand, I travelled around Australia for a few months staying with family and friends (I had made in Canada), as well as ‘Woofing’ (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) volunteering on organic farms in exchange for board and accommodation - something I had also done during my travels around Canada.)  Woofing is a great way to exchange cultures and skills while also joining communities around the world and to feel a sense of belonging while travelling on your own.

Once again, like with Canada, my experience in New Zealand opened up a wealth of opportunity, new friends, as well as gaining more independence and confidence to be able to support myself and travel on my own.  So at this stage of the journey - if you’re keeping up, you will see how there are repetitive strand’s: art history, travel, nature, exchanging cultures, the environment, and really the overall arching theme of committing to something you are passionate about and finding ways to make it happen.

So always thinking ahead - while I was in Australia I applied for the MA Curating course at Falmouth University and also for a seasonal job with the National Trust at Murlough Nature Reserve back home - a role which had always appealed to me, given my love of the outdoors, nature and the environment.  In a nice, coincidence, I was very lucky and honoured to receive the ‘Jean Forbes Environmental Award’ at Shimna, who quite aptly was also an artist.  After backpacking around Asia for 3 months I returned home to work with the National Trust on a fixed-term 6 month contract, before moving to Falmouth, Cornwall in September 2011 to complete my post-graduate degree in Curating.

During an intensive year of studying and working with Newlyn Art Gallery and Tate St Ives through my studies at Falmouth, I applied for a part-time job in a local commercial art gallery.  I continued working with the gallery after completing my MA, and applied for a post-graduate placement working with the Magnificent Science Project, to research online museum data sharing systems.  I later applied for a fixed-term role with the Eden Project, working on their inspirational seasonally curated educational programme on amazing set design’s, working with Aardman animators (the makers of Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep) on model-making and stop motion animation workshops; a freaky nature programme, as well as delivering a participatory art installation during outreach work in a tropical forest biome in the middle of Hampton Court Flower Show in summer 2013.  Working with Eden was a really wonderful, creative and at times a theatrical experience; and it really brought my arts, nature, environmental, education and creative background all together.

My journey may sound very seamless and easy as I glide through it in chronological order, but there are always obstacles.  For instance, while I was in Cornwall, I made many application’s for curating roles all over the country, not getting the next break or opportunity I was hoping for.  Nonetheless, I kept busy in creative roles at the gallery and with Eden, as well as volunteering on arts projects related to my field.  The important thing I would share and advise each of you, is how you deal with these obstacles, at times you may feel very disillusioned and frustrated - quite naturally.  And you may not go straight into the exact role you wish to do or how you imagined your path, but if you: work towards, remain open, speak with people in your field(s) and do your research on opportunities out there, over time your confidence will build and eventually the right opportunity will come along.

The key opportunity came for me with a 6 month internship with the National Trust assisting the curation of an outdoor exhibition of contemporary artwork across a Victorian Gothic Mansion Estate, at Tyntesfield, just outside Bristol.  At Tyntesfield, I lived on the incredible Victorian Gothic Estate and met my means by getting paid for closing-up, house-sitting and babysitting in the evening.  I also carried out the exhibition evaluation for Arts Council England and worked one day a week for the ‘Magnificent Science Project’ remotely.  

From my research and speaking with a friend who was also doing a National Trust Internship in Cornwall I was able to strategically make the right decision, as I was advised that National Trust Internships are project based and give you the exact hands-on experience in your field to become more employable.  The latter was proven as I secured a role working for the Year of Irish Design 2015, managing the Design Hub where we hosted 5 national and international touring exhibitions throughout 2015 on the grounds of Dublin Castle.  I am currently just finishing up with Irish Design and applying for and in conversation with arts projects to decide on the next step.

Luckily for me, my decision making came quite naturally as I followed my interests and what really excited me.  It wasn’t necessarily so easy for some of my peers, but if you are able to identify over time what you really love and what makes you tick, you are definitely over the biggest obstacle.  Also I find fixed-term contracts, changing locations,  a controlled element of risk and the unknown … of what might be next very exciting rather than an obstacle.  So as you guys have already started that path and perhaps are thinking what’s next for you I have put a few tips together from my experiences and the opportunities that have been given since Shimna:


  • Identify and follow your interests and commit to something

  • If you have many interests - don’t feel you need to only follow one of them

  • Research opportunities and think outside of the box on how you might be able to bring those interests together.

  • Continually think ahead

  • Grasp every opportunity and make the most of them

  • Talk to people in your field(s)

  • Volunteer - to show commitment to your field

  • Find an organisation or role that really appeals to you and work towards that … you don’t know what opportunities might open up along the way.

  • Be confident and passionate about what you do, as well as, keeping up momentum through the obstacles. 

  • Repetitive strand’s will emerge and it is always really interesting how an experience filters through and becomes relevant in the future - little serendipity moments will appear.


By committing to something you are passionate about, being pro-active to follow your interests and taking each opportunity that comes your way, everything else will come follow naturally.  I am sure you will find the same when you look back retrospectively at your next steps - 10 years from now.  But luckily for each of you, you have it all ahead to enjoy.  Wishing you all the very best of luck, enjoy the rest of your evening tonight and a huge congratulations to each and everyone of you on your very hard earned GCSE and A-level Awards.