St Michael’s Principal Gerard Adams began his prize day speech, in front an audience which included Tyrone manager Mickey Harte, by quoting the late Nelson Mandela.
“Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become head of the mine, and that a child of farm workers can become president of a great nation,” he said.
He added: “Fundamentally, the point of education is personal development. Of course, education, and in particular the qualifications that it brings, will open doors and create opportunities but wouldn’t it be a desperately sad thing if, at the end of our lives, the best thing that could be said of us is that we achieved this grade or that grade in these exams or those exams. I have never yet heard anyone delivering the eulogy at a funeral service commenting on the deceased’s academic qualifications.”
Mr Adams said: “And so tonight is about much more than academic achievement. It is about recognising that our young people are multi-faceted, that they have a range of talents and abilities which deserve to be recognised and rewarded, it is about recognising that those of us who are approaching the end of our careers can shuffle off to our retirement homes with confidence and peace of mind, knowing that the future is safe and in good hands.”
He continued: “St Michael’s is a unique school, literally unique. It is the only Catholic, Co-educational, Senior High school in Northern Ireland. We serve large areas of socio-economic deprivation. We admit a much wider range of ability than one would find in most other grammar schools and yet we are compared to other grammar schools without any consideration of our context.
“Real success for a school is not about the number of A*s gained by its pupils. It is about the successes of individual students. It is about the extent to which we have helped them to improve as individuals. It is about ensuring that they are better people when they leave us than they would have been if they had not been here.
“I recognise that they are not perfect – who among us is? – but as a group of young people, the students of St Michael’s are as fine a bunch of young people as you could hope to find anywhere. That is something, ladies and gentlemen, of which you, their parents and families, can be enormously proud. Who knows, perhaps one day, like Nelson Mandela, one of them could rise from poverty to become president of this great nation.”