AT JUST 17 years of age, Abbeyfealeâ€™s Jemima McCarthy became the third member of her family to receive an All Ireland Scholarship, an award sponsored by millionaire Limerick businessman JP McManus.
However, unlike her older sisters Hannah and Naomi, Ms McCarthy, who went to school in ColÃ¡iste Ãde agus Iosef, had the privilege of receiving her bursary directly from former US president Bill Clinton at an invite only event in the University Concert Hall last Saturday.
â€œIt was wonderful,â€ said Jemima, who is now studying financial maths and economics in NUIG. â€œIt was so exciting to see the former president and it is such a wonderful opportunity to be given this assistance in the economic climate we are in.â€
The scholarships, awarded to 125 students from North and South of the border, are worth â‚¬6,750 annually to the students while they are in university.
The Abbeyfeale student, who received 585 points in her Leaving Certificate last year, was joined by Castletroy College student Richard Kantsevitch - now in Trinity College - Siobhan Condon, who attended John The Baptist Community School, Hospital and Dylan Carroll from Gaelcholaiste Luimnigh, now studying engineering in UL, in receiving the scholarships.
Mr Clinton was the guest of honour at the event - for which Mr McManus reportedly paid him a six-figure sum - and presented the students with their scholarships as well as delivering a stirring 20-minute speech in which he told the students to â€œmake the most ofâ€ what he called a â€œpriceless opportunityâ€.
Some 600 invited guests, including businessmen Denis Oâ€™Brien and Dermot Desmond, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, Housing Minister Jan Oâ€™Sullivan, Deputy Willie Oâ€™Dea, Dr Martin McAleese and rugby icons Keith Wood and Paul Oâ€™Connell, witnessed Mr Clinton deliver the speech and those present said he exuded a â€œphenomenal presenceâ€.
But there was disappointment for those hoping to catch a glimpse of the charismatic former president, as he arrived and entered the UCH via a back door where a large black screen had been erected, while the event was closed to media.
â€œI would like to say to the students, todayâ€™s current economic crisis will pass and your education will endure, and it is very important that just as in making of peace, the Irish threw off the heavy hand of history to grasp for a brighter future, we throw off the burden of the current economic crisis to imagine a different future,â€ Mr Clinton said in his speech.
â€œWhat an education is, is a range of possibilities. It is a gift of personal freedom. It is a chance to make the most of, in spite of all the troubles at the moment.â€
Jemima said meeting the 42nd president of the United States was â€œthe experience of a lifetimeâ€.
â€œWhen he walked on stage there was a standing ovation and everyone was so excited,â€ she explained.
â€œHe gave a wonderful speech, very inspiring, and he told us not become victims of the economic crisis and that we had to do our best to live lives that are courageous and forgiving,â€ she added.
The scholarships were established in 2008, with Mr McManus contributing a total of â‚¬32 million to the scheme, from which over 1,300 students from the 32 counties will benefit.
He congratulated this yearâ€™s winners and said: â€œIt is our fervent hope, that the young people here today will embrace the opportunity now presented, achieve fulfilment and success in life but also become a resource for the betterment of our nationâ€™s futureâ€.