For thousands of teenagers across Northern Ireland, today should have been the day they said goodbye to school forever but they’ve missed that big farewell due to the Covid-19 restrictions. Linda Stewart talks to well-known figures about their final day at school.
Cool FM presenter Paulo Ross (30) went to De La Salle High School in Downpatrick before switching to St Patrick’s Grammar School for A-Levels
My last day at De La Salle High School was an emotional day. You spend most of secondary school looking forward to it being over and when the day actually comes you don’t want it to end.
I had to change school because I wanted to do A-levels and it was sad seeing all your friends split and go in different directions. I also felt nervous about starting at a completely different school.
My last day at St Patrick’s Grammar was again a day that was full of mixed emotions, knowing it was the ending of one chapter and beginning of another chapter before I went to university.
I went to Liverpool to study geography at John Moores University. It was quite daunting packing my bag to move to a new city and a new country for the first time.
After we got our A-level results, we went to a foam party at the Beach Club in Belfast, which is the one and only foam party I’ve ever been to and the only foam party you’ll ever see me at.
Then, that summer, I went to do Camp America. I was offered a post as a lifeguard and jet ski instructor in Pennsylvania for 10 to 11 weeks and it was brilliant, one of the greatest experiences of my life. I was very shy, but going by myself and meeting a whole lot of people really helped me.
I learned more about myself as an individual and it made me less shy.
Actress Diona Doherty (31) was a pupil at Thornhill College in Londonderry, the school which hit TV drama Derry Girls is said to be based upon
In Upper Sixth it was like a free-for-all in the last week. You’ve decided that you’re an adult and you’re doing your own thing. Lots of people had their own cars and they drove them to school on the last day — all the show-offs!
And there was that classic thing of signing your school shirts — everyone was going around with permanent markers signing your shirt and tearing up their ties.
I absolutely loved moving from Derry to Belfast to start my new life as a student studying Drama with Spanish and Irish at Queens University. But I definitely missed the simplicity of being in school and living at home. It was so easy just to put your uniform on every day. School was great and I missed living at home, but moving and going to university was more exciting than it was to miss school.
That summer, I went on holiday with my friends — we went to Gran Canaria for a fortnight. I had just passed my driving test so it had a real coming-of-age feel for me.
We booked apartments in Gran Canaria and 14 of us went away. My mum had given me a massive bag full of meat with me and I did a fry-up every day!
BBC football commentator Jackie Fullerton (77) went to Harryville Primary School before studying at Ballymena Intermediate School
I left school in 1959 — I was 16-years-old and it was one of those things where you’re saying, ‘Thank goodness that’s over, all that school and homework.’ But there’s an old saying, as you know, that the happiest days of your life are when you are at school before you go into the big, bad world, and it’s only later in life that you realise that’s true.
Like most people at that time, I was not going on to further education. I was lucky that I was going straight into a job as a trainee accountant with a firm called Brandon and Hodge in Ballymena. I did accountancy before television work came along.
But I was more interested at that time in football, and running about and playing football. On that final day we walked out of school and probably went to Harryville Park and had a kickabout with pullovers for goals.
My last year at school was quite hard because the headmaster thought I had a couple of brain cells and got me to do an exam called the College of Preceptors.
But I remember leaving, feeling internally very pleased, with the equivalent of five O-levels at that time.
I enjoyed accountancy and found it very interesting work. I worked at STC at Monkstown and ended up a three-quarters-qualified cost accountant.
It’s a big regret in my life that I never finished my accountancy exams, but I wouldn’t have changed my life because television turned out to be a good move for me and gave me a very successful life and career.
BBC NI presenter Joe Lindsay (49) went to St Patrick’s College, Bearnageeha, on the Antrim Road in north Belfast
Me and my friends were art students and we were just given our own classroom — there was no real sixth form common room — and our teacher very rarely came by.
We had a kettle and a sandwich toaster and a ghetto blaster, and all we did was make tapes all day, drink coffee and make paintings. On the last day we bought beers and sat in the dark room and drank a few beers before we left school. It wasn’t like we were glad to be out of school because we really enjoyed it — in lower sixth and upper sixth we had two years of having our own room to make art in.
After leaving we dandered down the road, got showered and went to the Limelight.
My last days at school were fantastic. By then I was going out to raves and warehouse parties and I loved it.
After school I went to the Ulster University at Coleraine and studied humanities, so I left Belfast for three years.
I kind of got better A-level results than I thought I was going to have — I was painting a lot and I actually did really well.
That summer I started working in Baps chippy in the Dublin Road in Belfast which was the best job I ever had.
Every time I was home in summer or at Halloween I got shifts there.
It was blown up by the IRA — had it not been blown up, I’d probably still be working there.
I was happy at the back of the room flipping burgers and playing tapes on the ghetto blaster. At that time we were the only chippy that opened until 4am and some crazy people came through.
It was brilliant and chaotic and I learned a lot from it — how to make pasties, chicken strips and how to scrub down a grill.
Former world featherweight champion Carl Frampton (33) went to Glengormley High School but left after lower sixth
After the last day of fifth year, the plan was to go on and do A-levels. So, I did AS-levels but my mates had already left the year before. I was kind of running around with a new bunch of people, but I couldn’t be bothered so left and went to tech instead. So, because of all that it wasn’t exactly a big last day.
But I do remember the last day of fifth year. Everyone was signing shirts and people seemed to be ripping shirts — I don’t know what that was about!
At AS-level, I did PE, ICT and ... I can’t even remember the other one. That’s bad, isn’t it? There were three of them.
I didn’t mind school and I feel like I could have done better. I was very focused on boxing and it has paid off for me. But if it hadn’t paid off, I might have struggled. I feel I could have put a bit more effort in.
Former justice minister Claire Sugden (33) went to Coleraine High School
Leaving school was one of those bittersweet kinds of moments. It had a really nice feeling about it. It was quite surreal — positive, in one sense, because you’ve achieved so much and you’re moving on.
The school always held a formal towards the end of the year and they had a hockey concert at the end of the year where people got up on stage to chastise each other. I feel the pupils this year have missed out on their final goodbyes.
The staff always relaxed a wee bit as well. You find you have a different relationship with them. You feel you are a bit more on the same level, though you’re not, of course. You feel very adult — there’s a mixture of sadness at leaving behind a significant period of your life, but excitement because you’re heading off to university.
We thought we were adults. After school, a friend and I booked a holiday to Turkey — we booked the cheapest holiday we could book and it reflected that when we got there!
I applied for law — I really wanted to go to Queen’s Law School — but I didn’t get the grades to study law at Queen’s. So, I studied politics there instead — and the rest is history.
Writer Glenn Patterson (58) is director of the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University Belfast. He went to Methodist College in Belfast
Immediately after leaving Methody, I went to work at Queen’s bookshop in Belfast city centre in Rosemary Street and after a couple of years doing that, I went to the University of East Anglia and did an MA in creative writing and started my first book when I was there.
My girlfriend was still at school so I was hanging around the place for a while after I left and continued to see a lot of people that I saw when I was at school.
It seems to have got a little bit more expected that there will be mayhem on the last day but I don’t remember there being anything particularly planned in school on our last day — I guess just messing about was probably about the height of it.
I probably walked up the Lisburn Road with my girlfriend as soon as it was over. I don’t remember us having a party. We had lots of parties around then, so if there was a party it would probably have merged into all the others!
My daughter has just finished Methody and I feel for her, that none of them have had that proper last day at school or last few weeks at school. That quick curtailment that came in March was a great shame. Although people are meeting up, there is something about that progression through winter and spring of the last year into exams; the rite and the ritual of all that is something I do remember.
I did miss it but I was ready to leave. That’s the whole purpose of your school career — it suits you to move on.
I suppose the last day is a mixture of expectation, anticipation and instantly generated nostalgia, but I knew I wasn’t leaving Belfast at that stage.
The great thing about the end of school is those weeks leading up to gradually falling away from everything. In the end it’s that other thing where you start to meet teachers as friends — all the work is done and the exams are over.
And your last few weeks at school, when you talk to your teachers, all of that is something that if you left this year, you missed out on.