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2020 - 2029

Don O'Leary Honorary Doctorate Speech

13 Nov 2021

"I would like to convey my sincere gratitude to the National University of Ireland and in particular University College Cork for bestowing this great honour on me today. Thank you to NUI Chancellor Dr Maurice Manning, NUI Registrar Dr Attracta Halpin and UCC President Professor John O Halloran. I would like to extend my gratitude to the many members of UCC faculty those who are present and indeed those who are not that I am lucky enough to consider friends of mine and great supporters of the Cork Life Centre(special mention to Professor Ursula Kilkelly and Dr Sharon Lambert)

Thank you Professor Áine Hyland for your citation and for being a guiding post for myself and so many in the field of education for so many years.

I do have a touch of impostor syndrome standing here today receiving an honorary doctorate but I graciously accept the honour not just on my own behalf but importantly on behalf of the whole team at the Cork Life Centre which includes staff, students, parents and families. I would also like to thank my own family.

Being a lot older than most of the graduates I am looking at today I want to briefly share some things I have learned over the years(for what they are worth) not just as Director of the Cork Life Centre but in all the other spaces and places I have lived and worked in.

The first thing that comes to mind is that education truly is a lifelong journey and by no means does it all take place in the classroom.  But you have to create the conditions for your field of work to be a classroom. The only way you will do this is by truly listening to those you work with and for-any success we have experienced at the Cork Life Centre has come from listening to young people and placing them as the experts on their own lives. Wherever you choose to work relationships matter-and these relationships have to be built on trust and respect-I have learned from working with young people that too often adults in their lives demand respect from them without first earning it. Respect is a two way street-never take it for granted-earn it every day.  

As you leave here today and head out to the world of work or wherever the journey takes you next above all focus on doing what brings you happiness. In a consumerist world we spend a lot of our lives in work and sometimes money can seem the only priority or outcome of our working lives. While money and security are important  if you don’t like the work you do it can become a long trail of misery.  

Whatever field you go on to work in and no matter how far you excel in this work remember that you always have more to learn. Always be open-minded and non-judgmental. Be open to having your mind changed and be open to being wrong(this can be difficult!) But believe me when I say we often learn a lot more from the things we were wrong about than those that we got just right. 

My own journey through education has led me down many avenues. Initially when I completed my leaving cert I would have loved to be a teacher. Given the times and the fact that I was the eldest of 11 siblings that wasn’t on the cards. So I worked at many different  things before returning to education via the Open University on a long holiday I took in Portlaoise as referenced by Aine.  Then I was lucky enough to land in UCC as a mature student where I studied Youth and Community Work a very enriching experience. Even with degree in hand and years of voluntary work in the youth and community field I was still unsure where this would lead me to. In a series of happy coincidences I met people who believed in me and offered me opportunities to work with amazing young people.

My final remark has to be to these young people. I owe a debt of gratitude to each and every young person I have encountered in my work. I am passionate about education but it is you who have been my teachers."


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