Think back to that sunny day in August that has led almost all of you to be here clambering around the society stands, figuring out where the Academic Registry is and generally having a ball. On results day, the media and political landscape is more focused on young people and their lives more so than any other time during the year. Smiling student faces are wheeled in front of cameras and microphones to talk about hard work, hopes for a good future and the ever looming Smart Economy. Maybe you were on the front of a newspaper, or were held up as an example of how education reform is working? The day after you’re a college student, and you’re old news; a statistic lost in the grant system, a figure off the dole queue and someone who is entering third level education at a time where the voices of young people are drowned out by shinier, less problematic stories.
Don’t let your voice be drowned out. Use all of the opportunities granted to you during this brief part of your life in Trinity. Activism, media, and student politics are all places where you can make a difference and be heard.
You are starting life in an institution unequivocally woven into the fabric of our capital city and just as the city surrounds us, so too do the instruments of our country’s politics. You will see the ugly, grey faced monolith which houses the Department of Health jut up from between the Dining Hall and the GMB. Your professor will end his Introduction to Economics lecture on a Wednesday morning and proceed to make the ten minute stroll up to his seat in the Seanad. Almost every protest and demonstration that happens in Dublin will snake through College Green on its way to nearby government buildings. The drums, whistles and chants will temporarily break the idyllic silence of Front Square; you will be reminded of where you are and wonder why you are absent on the march.
Lend your ears not to the PR executives and former TDs who sit in a cozy circle with their newspapers on the Sunday morning radio shows, but to the stories being told by young people all over our city. Find the communal creative spaces where art is developing and performers infuse their real experiences into what they do. Look at how they tell the emigration tale, how they talk about those who have had to leave. They saw their friends and family working for the minimum wage, living in dilapidated flats and having to solely eat beans at the end of every month. They know the real stories of economic migration behind the Irish Times headlines of “adventure seekers” and four out of five emigrants having employment.
Those who now walk in the corridors of power in our country were once bright young freshers who sauntered through the same archway as you did and took stock of everything on offer. They signed up for the youth wings of their parties, joined student publications and took up student union politics. Remind them of the vigour and passion they’re convinced they had at your age. Make yourselves as visible as they were and keep your convictions. Don’t be complicit in letting the electoral register and weekday voting be weapons against students. Resist attempts to weaken campaign groups and student media. Object to being left out in the cold when decisions are made regarding student life and accommodation and supports and be vocal about your lives and experiences. Leave the gate open for everyone to come through.