Presentation Evening September 2019

 

On 1stSeptember 1994, twenty five years ago, Shimna Integrated College was opened by parents who wanted for their children an Integrated, academically excellent, all-ability, student centred and parent friendly education. At the time, Northern Ireland was in turmoil. The Loughinisland shootings happened on the evening of our first family barbecue, Frank Kerr was murdered in Newry just week’s after we opened, the Omagh bomb and so many other atrocities were still ahead of us. But on the day that Shimna opened, the IRA declared the first ceasefire, followed a few days later by the Loyalist ceasefire. The students who are receiving their certificates this evening represent the vindication of the efforts made by those founding parents. It is a particular pleasure that the presentations will be made by one of those founder students. It is a particular pleasure to welcome our students’ parents this evening. Parent support continues to be crucial to the success of our school, both your support for your daughter or son and your support for our dedicated, inspirational and committed staff.

 

In 1994, we came together, not because we all agreed, but precisely because we disagree, but committed to living and learning together and to exploring all the dimensions of our various ideas and beliefs. Integration is as exciting a challenge today as it was then. Nowdays we disagree about Brexit, about the impending changes in legislation on marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland, about what are the best ways to tackle climate change. Since the Good Friday Belfast Agreement propelled us into a peace process, we are probably now facing the greatest challenge to our capacity to listen to each other and to Integrate.

 

Integration was, and remains, central to the existence of our school, but no one is interested in an Integrated education which is not also an excellent education. That is why this evening’s celebration of our students’ academic achievement is so important. That is why the fact that academic excellence has been achieved in an Integrated, all-ability context is so important. Hannah graduated from Cambridge this year in modern and mediaeval languages, and Gabriel is about to set off to Cambridge to read mathematics. Annissa has headed off to Enniskillen to work for her diploma in equine studies and Paul is one of the most highly qualified mountain guides in the world. It’s as various as that. I got a great text from Drew, one word, “Employed”. We celebrate everyone’s success.

 

Our twentyfifth year has brought fantastic news on another front, that work has started on our new building, here on our Lawnfield site. There are strange brown patches at various points across our grounds, where somebody comes each week to test the soil, test the water levels, test all sorts of things in readiness for the diggers coming on site in 2021. The plan includes new pitches and sports facilities as well as state of the art new buildings. It will be a very sad day when the building we are in this evening is eventually demolished. This building was put up on a bank loan, with attic and basement spaces fitted out each year as our students grew and as we found the money to afford it. But our students of the future deserve the very best of facilities, and there is everything to look forward to.

 

This evening we celebrate the academic achievements of all our students. However, there is so much more to celebrate. Our drama students have just been informed that they have won the prestigious Carson Award, which will be presented next month at a glittering ceremony at the Ormeau Baths Gallery in Belfast. Many of you will have taken part in our wonderful 25thanniversary choir performance, with students, staff, parents/guardians and governors singing together the song composed for us by Ria. Our sports teams have gone from strength to strength with league success in netball, and finals reached in football, gaelic and rugby and Bronze, Silver and Gold medals won at Down, Ulster and All Ireland level in track and field events. Record numbers take part in our Duke of Edinburgh/Presindent’s Award. Our creative writers have been compiling a wonderful 25thanniversary poetry anthology which we look forward to launching this term. Prospective law students have won their cases at the High Court in Belfast in the Mock Bar Trial competition. We represented Greece this year at the Mock Council of the European Union. Trips and visits included Berlin, Provence, two Donegal Gaeltachts, London and the Derryveagh mountains. Further trips are in planning to Italy to ski, and to Spain. Our Integrated and Religious studies department won the Marsh Award for their outstanding work on the refugee experience, and our students were invited to present their work at a training session for social workers and other agencies working to support refugees. Our Amnesty International group continues to raise our awareness and to campaign.

 

Now I come to introduce one of those founder students from twentyfive years ago. One of the very real bits of damage inflicted on us by our troubles was the death of the entrepreneurial spirit, and commentators on Northern Ireland’s progress since the peace process began, emphasise the importance of revitalising our business sector and rediscovering our creativity. Brendan has certainly set about doing just that, and I invite him how to tell us all about it. I believe it’s all about the eyebrows…