Book Launch of 'Cracking the College Code' by Catherine O'Connor

O'Reilly Institute, Trinity College

26 November 2013

Minister, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Trinity College.

Today, with this book, we focus on the experience of first-time students, and on making the most of university life. So I’d like to start with one of my favourite lines of poetry - from Michael Hartnett, a line I quote to our new Freshers each year:

‘I pity the man who must witness the fate of himself’

Why I am I so struck by this, and why do I believe it will resonate with our students?  Because I think what Hartnett is saying is that life can seem to force you in a certain direction, to put you on a path where you have to fulfil certain expectations. You are then a passive witness to your fate, rather than the maker and creator of your own life.  

Education is how you can transform your fate. It’s a truism to say that the few years you spend in university can be the most transformative and game-changing of your life. It was so for me; it is so for generations of students.

This is what we wish for all our students – that they are open to experience and allow experience to change them. It’s why we put emphasis on both curricular and extra-curricular activities. We want our students to experience everything a Trinity Education has to offer, including:

  • Learning to think for themselves through research-led education;
  • Learning to debate their findings in seminars and tutorials;
  • Participation in clubs and societies;
  • Public speaking;
  • Volunteering;
  • And commercialising their research and ideas through student business schemes like LaunchBox.

Yes, we’re ambitious for our students, and we want them to be ambitious for themselves. But we know the challenges involved in making the most of college life, and they are not trivial challenges.

  • First off, you have to pick the course and university or institute that suits you. That’s a fundamental challenge – making sure you’re studying the right thing in the right place.
  • Then there’s the intellectual challenge of transitioning from second level, where you are largely being taught, to third level, where you have to think for yourself.
  • There’s the financial challenge of supporting yourself through college, perhaps living away from home and dealing with rent and living expenses.
  • There’s the social challenge of meeting new people and making new friends – especially if, like me, your school friends aren’t studying in the same college as you.
  • And there’s the personal challenge – the pressure you put on yourself to make the most of all the opportunities around you. I know that feeling of urgency – you don’t want to get left behind. Life, as they say, is not a rehearsal. Neither is university.

It’s important to hit the ground running. To enable this, Catherine O’Connor has written this immensely useful and practical guide.

Catherine is a lecturer in Trinity but she’s written this book on behalf of the whole third-level sector in Ireland – it’s not specific to any one university. This is the kind of guide I would have welcomed as a student, and it’s a guide I’ll be recommending to my own kids when they’re of college-going age.

Leaving Cert students and Freshers are the target audience for this book. It’s also of great use to parents, especially ‘first-time’ parents of new students. It will help them manage expectations and give the best possible support to their children.

I congratulate Catherine. This book is one step further towards students actively creating, rather than passively witnessing, the fate of themselves.

It’s now my great pleasure to introduce the Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn,T.D., to formally launch this book.

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