MORE than 1,000 students were proud, relieved and nervous as the two-day conferring ceremony took place at Mary Immaculate College.
Students from 24 counties and three continents gathered in their hundreds between the Lime Tree Theatre and the short walkway to the Tailteann building, where the graduation ceremony took place, last Thursday and Friday.
Amongst the 1,010 conferred students, 18 of them were awarded PhDs - the highest number of doctoral awards to ever be given out at the college.
Two Limerick locals were amongst this elite group of 18. They were Dr Dearbhla McCarthy, who was one of the first doctoral candidates to come in via the Foundation certificate programme; and Dr Noel O’Connell, who was the second ever deaf person in Ireland to receive a doctoral award.
Dr O’Connell, of Oola, did his PhD on “Deaf people’s experience of education and culture in the context of Ireland”, as he felt educational institutions used languages that were “inaccesible” to deaf people.
“While understanding these issues is important, it does not closely reflect the experiences of deaf people with the way they define their own culture. Deaf people have not been adequately included as subjects in educational research. They are frequently excluded from studies concerning education and where they are included in such studies they tend to be under-represented.
“I believed there was a need to fill that void by creating a space for the voice of deaf people to better represent and authenticate their educational experiences,” he explained.
Congratulating the PhD recipient, Mary I president Michael A Hayes said: “Dr O’Connell’s work will play a major part in progressing our understanding of deaf education and culture both within and outside deaf communities and enrich all of our lives in an increasingly diverse world. We commend him for this.”
Dr O’Connell said that his experience in Mary I has “enriched” his life.
Dr Dearbhla McCarthy, originally from Cappamore, failed to complete her first third level course, but got into Mary I’s Bachelor degree in Liberal Arts via the Foundation certificate programme. She pursued a Masters in English Literature and then received her doctoral award in the same subject.
“This turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done as it really prepared me for full-time study, provided experience of a variety of academic subjects and gave me a chance to get to know people. I was surprised how difficult I sometimes found it to believe in my own ability, but there was always someone to talk to, especially my colleagues, who were returning to education too,” she said.
Dean of Arts, Professor Michael Breen said Ms McCarthy’s achievement shows that access barriers to university are diminishing.
“She is the first of a number of doctoral candidates who have come into third level via our Foundation certificate programme. Her achievement is positive proof that one of the primary barriers to university, that of access, is being steadily eroded. Our students are drawn from diverse backgrounds, reflecting all groups and ages in Irish society,” he stated.
President Michael A Hayes told the graduates on the Thursday and Friday that he has high hopes for the alumni, though they are entering a “world of economic and social insecurity”.
“Your predecessors could have easily expected that graduation would have almost guaranteed employment and status in society but that might not be the case for you. In former years your identity might have been made up of factors such as the family you grew up in, the school you attended, the community where you lived, and the college from which you graduated. All of these might have given you security in establishing your place in the world.
“Your education and formation here will have put you in good stead to meet these and other challenges, for here you have been helped to play your role in creating a new knowledge society but more importantly a just society,” he spoke at the ceremony.
Prof Hayes thanked University of Limerick and its president, Don Barry, for helping to establish Mary I’s authenticity. Prof Barry, who attended the ceremony, congratulated the some 1,000 graduates.
“The US president, Franklin D Roosevelt once said; ‘We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.’ I have no doubt, you will succeed in inspiring many generations to come,” he said.
The conferring ceremony did not just consist of students receiving degrees; many awards were given out for academic excellence. A total of 10 Limerick locals received top marks in their subjects.
Conor Madigan, of Rathkeale, received the College Medal for reaching first place in his Bachelor of Arts class. Patrickswell’s Michelle McCoy won the Religious Education Medal, while Tomás Frawley, of Castletroy, received the Saint Bonaventure Trust Prize, which is for top marks in Theology and Religious studies.
John Harnett, Corbally, was given MIC doctoral studentship, while Anne Murphy, Limerick city, received the the Postgraduate Award.
A number of Limerick students excelled in various subjects. Vincent McCarthy, Killalee, topped History; Fedamore’s Anne-Marie O’Donnell was first in Maths; Michael Dowling, Castletroy, achieved the best results in Media and Communication Studies; Croom’s Sinead Ryan received an award for best in Music; and Lindsey Jordan, of Gouldavoher, topped the class in Philosophy.
The many students, who posed for photos with family and friends in their graduation robes, said that they will miss Mary I, as the college was like their “family”.